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

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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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Armadillos and Hot Coffee Lawsuits

There are basically three ways to learn something new. Sometimes you learn over time, without really noticing that you have learned anything. It’s sort of like watching a puppy grow – you don’t actually realize anything has changed until you see pictures from a few months ago and realize that this thing has gotten huge! Having grown up in church, much of my spiritual formation occurred in tiny easy-to-digest bites like this. I’d guess that most learning throughout our lives happens naturally this way. 

Did you know that every time an armadillo gives birth, they have identical quadruplets? Yep, it’s true. Look it up. Sometimes you learn something that you never knew you didn’t know. This, I think, is the easiest way to learn new information. It occupies a piece of your brain that was vacant and ready for a little truth nugget to take up residence. It’s like hearing a sermon, or a podcast, or having a conversation and thinking,“Wow, I never thought of that before.”

The third way we learn is the most difficult. It is when some new bit of information comes along that contradicts what we already thought we knew. Remember the lady that sued McDonalds when she spilled hot coffee on herself? What if I told you that it wasn’t an insane frivolous lawsuit but was a completely justified and correct course of action for her to take. Again, it’s true. Look it up. If you’ve never heard the whole story, your first thought is probably that I’m wrong and there is no way McDonalds should be responsible for a clumsy lady spilling coffee. 

When presented with new information that contradicts what we believe, even if that information is reliable, accurate and true, studies show that people will reject it, preferring to hold onto their previous (if now untenable) ideas. This happens when you hear a sermon, or a podcast, or have a conversation and think, “Nope.  That can’t be true. I mean it sounds true, and they backed it up with some good evidence, but…no way.”

These are the truths that we wrestle with, especially if one new truth affects several areas of our lives of belief systems. If x is true, what do I do about y and z? This thought alone can be daunting enough to make us reject the new truth for the sake of the familiar comfort of our old truth.

In the American Church, we have many traditions and long held ideas that are not based on Biblical doctrine or objective truth, but we hold onto them like they are bits of precious truth.  Jesus challenged the way that religious leaders did this and turned the whole thing upside-down.  I doubt that his revolutionary vision was to have his followers evolve (or devolve) back into the same thing.

It’s time to take inventory of what we know, and what we think we know. I picked up a lot of truths growing up in the church, and I’ve had to spend some time putting down some of them.  They were very easy to learn, and very difficult, even in light of new evidence, to let go of. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to pursue truth. And if anyone needs more interesting armadillo facts, or wants to discuss the hot coffee lawsuit, just let me know.

--Jeff Hyson

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It Happened Overnight

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It happened over night. Literally.

I slipped out my back door this morning to tend my garden. I love this early morning interlude. There’s a new-born freshness and promise to the awakening day. Dew magically glistens on the grass and leaves, and I sense a subtle hint of coolness stirring in the breeze—in spite of the sun’s best efforts. Immediately, my heart is drawn to the majestic and artful Creator of it all…a very good way to begin any day, don’t you think?

And then I saw it.

My war-ravaged, battle-weary flower garden…surrendered in defeat. Chewed, gnawed, battered, broken, and mutilated in less than 12 hours—a new world’s record.

Yay, slugs…

Could anything be more revolting, vile and disgusting? I feverishly yanked twenty-three of those bloated, slimy globs from their victory celebration inside my flowerpots and my flowerbeds. I crushed them mercilessly on my driveway stones. 

I really hate slugs.

Rustling in my garage, I found last year’s slug and snail poison pellets and generously scattered them angrily around the roots of all my pitiful survivors. Too little, too late.

I felt sick. I felt sad. And are you ready for a pretty wild twist? Sorry, this is the weird way my mind operates.

I thought of marriage. I’m feeling pretty sick and sad about marriages right now too. So many look (and probably feel) a little too much like my decimated garden. Chewed, gnawed, battered, broken, and mutilated. What in the world is going on?

Do you see the metaphor too?

Marriage is a garden. Two starry-eyed and hope-filled romantics promise to dutifully design its contours and character, prepare and till the soil, sow the seeds, and tend the plantings. Gardeners. Together they sacrifice and labor with the goal of creating something bountiful, flourishing and beautiful. Their love and naiveté fuel their passion to make this garden more magnificent than any garden before it. They really mean it.  

But a lovely garden takes hard work. Together. 

And neither figures it requires so much sweat and so many tears. 

Neither imagines that flowers can be so slow-growing. Neither realizes that flowers—fragile, vulnerable, and delicate—require such tender, constant, and informed care. Neither accounts for all of the watering, feeding, pruning, and weeding that a lovely and healthy garden needs. Nor do they anticipate the climate variables.

Effort. Protection. Expense. Time. Attention. Cooperation. Sacrifice. Every day. And it never ends. Haven’t you found this to be true?

Then there are weeds to contend with.

Among the most relentless and destructive weeds in the marriage garden are selfishness, immaturity, idolatry, poor communication, an unforgiving spirit, laziness, a controlling personality, and unrealistic expectations. The common strains of these weeds need to be immediately tugged out as soon as they are noticed. Nothing that has the potential to choke the plants or steal nutrients from the flower, hindering its growth to maturity, can be tolerated. Not even for a minute.

Yes, our stubborn flesh sows the seeds of these weeds. And they are watered and coddled by a very anti-Christian, hedonistic culture. Our desire to nurture and grow a beautiful garden of love is thwarted, disparaged, and attacked from without (the world) and within (our flesh). These weeds, if we are careful and diligent gardeners, are pretty obvious. Though work is required to get rid of them, there is a lot of information and help available out there.

But there is another not-so-obvious enemy to contend with. And no one gives much thought to him. 

The slug. He is the secret and sinister destroyer. He’s done dirty work in a garden before. 

Unseen, in the cover of darkness, he slips unnoticed into the flower pot, entwining his oily body around the stalks and winding his way into the roots, nipping and gnawing to feed his insatiable appetites. He is ruthless. He takes all that our flesh and the world throw at us and twists it and distorts it to confuse us, deceive us, and divide us. Mutilation.

And the unwitting gardeners, some focused on watering and weeding, some neglectful and lazy, are totally unaware that the wily slug is hiding in the shadows and soon will be wreaking havoc in the garden. 

Sometimes, even when we may be busy doing good things, right things, we still we are not seeing the growth and beauty in our marriages that we expect to see. We have gotten counseling, taken the marriage courses, attended the seminars, and read the books. We even have a monthly date night. We have nurtured the garden and it doesn’t flourish. So we become hurt or disillusioned. We want to give up the hope of that beautiful marriage we had once dreamed about. We blame each other for the failure. Could it be that there is something else going on?

Let the words of Ephesians 6:12 sink in.

                                                “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,                                                                                  but against the rulers, against the authorities, against                                                                                the powers of this dark world and against the                                                  spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.”

I think we often forget the slug. Satan.

He is the enemy…not our spouses.

He is out to kill our hope, steal our joy, and destroy our marriages. 

Sure, we all can be jerks to one another. There are times when a husband may get lazy about his leadership or a wife may not respect her man as she should. Maybe they both are overcommitted and neglectful of their “garden.” Weeds may be taking over. No matter. Though these issues need to be resolved, we all need to remember that the real bad guy is Satan. 

When we identify the enemy, when we recognize the unseen forces at work, we can pray that God would put a hedge of protection around our marriages. We can ask Him to dress us with spiritual armor, like the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, so we can stand our ground against any attack that comes at us. We can fill our homes with songs and hymns of praise. I’m deeply persuaded that the worship of King Jesus drives the enemy away screaming in protest. I love to remind myself out loud that Satan is a defeated foe and the Victor is my Father. No one but the King is welcome in my home and in my marriage. I hold on to the truth that greater is He, my glorious Savior, Who is in me than he that is skulking about the world (and around LFA) seeking to devour and devastate. We must not let him! Be alert!

So to summarize, recognize that your marriage garden requires hard work and that it is worth every drop of sweat you expend. Marriage was God’s idea. Be loving, grateful, attentive and careful gardeners, patiently nurturing the growing beauty of your marriage. Pull the weeds as soon as you see them. Guard against your flesh and the influences of the world. 

And watch out for the slug. 

No more overnight, record-breaking victories for him. Are you with me?

--Eileen Hill

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Check Your Thoughts At the Door

I say “at the door” but really our need to check the nature and influence of our thoughts is more significant than what we often think.

I am not talking about “I forgot that important paper or my keys inside” or “perhaps I went too far amusing myself and said a few things that I should have not.” Though these examples may be important, I am thinking more about those thoughts that, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “raise up against the knowledge of God” and prevent us from obeying Christ (2 For 10:5).

The battle we face every day is a battle around what drives our actions and priorities. Thoughts have a way of doing that. Once a thought grabs our attention it is pretty easy to then make it our own. Some thoughts, according to Paul, can prevent us from knowing God as He desires to be known. In other instances, thoughts can have a way of making us resist something that God has revealed to be truth or good. The end result is that we come under such influence rather than taking “captive” the thought under the obedience of Christ.

The other day a thought came to my mind. The thought basically said: “do what you can to be invisible to that person; you are too tired to take on one more potential demand!” While part of the thought was true—I was exhausted—fundamentally speaking the thought was against God’s commandment to love my neighbor. And the thought, if followed, could prevent me from knowing God in a place where I would need His presence and resources—so I could love well my neighbor. Powerful how a simple thought can affect the direction of my actions in a given moment.

What thoughts have you had recently that prevent you from knowing God and obeying Christ? Check them at the door. Do not embrace them too quickly! Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul teaches that as we are renewed in our minds we will be able to test and approve what is the good, pleasant and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2). I think this verse gives us a good strategy to filter our thoughts. But we need to recognize that the filter is formed and strengthened as we proactively seek the transformation of our minds. How are you doing this in your personal life?

Friends, as eager as we may be to carefully choose what goes into our mouths, let’s be careful to guard what comes in and rules over our minds!

May God give us grace to filter our thoughts so we can move toward knowing Him deeper and honor Christ through obedience. 

--Diego Cuartas

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How Stuff Works: The Gift of Emotions

Have you ever googled something in order to learn about it? I have frequently, and this site comes up the says “HowStuffWorks.” I click on it, and it has some practical advice on the things I am curious about. So…it seems like the word on the street is that these emotions that we all have has some serious misunderstandings happening, which in turn, causes some issues, sometimes serious issues. Therefore, I thought I would reiterate a blog I wrote four years ago, with some added flare!

I strongly dislike generalized statements like, “All women love to shop” or “All guys love sports,” “everyone” wants this or “everyone” wants that. A recent one I’ve heard is “All teenage boys cuss when they are together with other teenage boys. That’s what teenagers do!” Or these little gems: “That’s a man thing because they’re stupid” or “That’s a woman thing because they’re so hormonal.” I just love when people boil down the complexities of individuals to such a small definition in order to understand how “everyone” functions. Wrong conclusions being made every time is usually the case!

Therefore, I will intentionally avoid a generalized statement here and simply say, “If you are anything like me, I have frequent times of feeling some kinda way! Sometimes it’s feeling frustration out of the blue, sometimes it’s feeling hunger for the Chinese Buffet, sometimes it’s feeling anger over violations or other times it’s just feeling UGH! At times my feelings are all over the place, hard to really understand what is going on. Sometimes the anger is an appropriate response to external circumstances that are wrong, and my internal response toward the violation or sin is anger, while other times my anger is strictly my own sinful heart not getting its own way. As Pastor Nate has taught, anger is a barometer of our heart that says something needs to be dealt with. That’s a blog for a whole different day!! Remember, feelings are a gift from God, but we must learn how to recognize them, process them appropriately and not avoid them. God has given them to us for a reason.  Feelings, oh they can be so powerful. I am very thankful God gave the human heart, mind and body the ability to feel. How dangerous would it be if we couldn’t feel? When we feel extreme heat, the normal bodily response is danger and we step away. When we feel sub zero temperatures, we normally respond by putting on more clothing to prevent frostbite. Hopefully I have made the point regarding the importance of our body feeling sensations and responding appropriately. Otherwise it could be very detrimental to us. For some who have lost the ability to feel, due to some diseases or traumatic accidents, they have to be very cautious and take proper measures to ensure they won’t be subject to danger. God created the human body with an awesome alert system to protect us from danger.

This brings to the next point, the beautiful gift of emotions that God has given us. They are designed to work in our favor, to be a part of our celebrations, our healing process, our warning signals from danger, our own brokenness and need for a Savior. We are so broken in this area, friends, and unfortunately many of us base our reality on “how we feel” and then label it as God’s leading or lack thereof because they can’t feel God. I have sat with young girls who “feel” like they love the new boyfriend three weeks into a relationship and has sex to show him, only to end up feeling shame and guilt. Others have felt like fitting in with the peer group and made some bad decisions that get them arrested. Others compromise their values very quickly and perform sexual acts to get needs met. In the church, people operate in their feelings to the extreme of disengaging in worship because they don’t feel like it, don’t like the worship song or don’t actively engage in the celebration time because they aren’t feeling anything.        

NEWS FLASH

WORSHIP ISN’T ABOUT YOU!!!

IT IS ALL ABOUT THE GOD WHO DESERVES YOUR PRAISE

AND CAN SAVE YOU FROM YOUR SELF FOCUS
 

This is a little ditty I had as a piano lesson back in the day as a child. I thought I was all that being able to play it...OVER AND OVER!! Check out the crazy lyrics!
 

Feelings

Feeling, Nothing more than feelings, Trying to forget my feelings of love

Teardrops, Rolling down on my face, Trying to forget my feelings of love

Feelings, For all my life I'll feel it, I’ll wish I've never met you, girl, You'll never come again

Feelings, Wo-o-o feelings, Wo-o-o feelings, Again in my heart,

Feelings, Feelings like I've lost you, and feelings like I've never have you, Again in my heart

Feelings, For all my life I'll feel it, I wish I've never met you, girl, You'll never come again

Feelings, Feelings like I've lost you , And feelings like I've never have you

The tried and true breakup song of the centuries! Obviously, this song is talking about someone “feelin’ some kinda way!” plus, they are full of contradictions. It’s clear they loved the person, or at least they thought they did. But in light of that, concerned that someone like them will never come along again, but on the flip side, they wish they never met them. Hmmm. Curious.

Wished they never met them, feelings like they lost them and never have them. But, they wish they never met them. “Why?” I ask. All because they do not want to feel hurt. All to avoid the grieving process and what it has to teach us. No one likes to hurt, and if they did, there’s an actual diagnosis for that in the DSM4. But hurting is a necessary part of life. The bible talks about ‘sharing in the sufferings of Christ’. A necessary component of our journey here on planet earth to walk through and experience the attributes of the Father in ways we may not when all is good. Pain pushes us into to arms of the healer or propels us to seeking life outside of Him. It’s our choice.

So who is this God with healing arms?  God is above, and I repeat, ABOVE, our circumstances. We must battle to remember that. I have watched my loved ones who walk closely with Jesus do just that. When there is a very serious crisis going on where the outcome is fragile, I watch them in silence and verbally battle. Every minute of the day, battle for truth of who God is amidst tragic circumstances.

  • He is the God who created the entire universe in six days and rested on the seventh.
  • He is the God who parted the Red Sea and killed the Egyptians who were chasing His children, the Israelites.
  • He is the God who parted the Jordan River in order for His children to walk into the Promised Land.
  • He is the God who sacrificed His only Son and raised Him from the dead in three days in order to save us.
  • He is the God who HEALS.
  • He is the God who PROVIDES.
  • He is the God who REDEEMS.
  • He is the God who COMFORTS.
  • He is the God who is JUST.
  • He is the God who CARES.
  • He is the God who FORGIVES.
  • He is God, He is my God, He is my Savior, He is my Abba.

    In spite of your feelings, I ask you friend, a question that Jesus asked His disciples...

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Feelings are a gift but must come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Through His Spirit, we can understand what we are feeling, why we are feeling that way and how to process appropriately so the feelings we experience lead us into a closer relationship to Him.

Blessings Friends

-- Lois Robinson

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Just call me “Ma Clampett"!

A few months ago, my son in San Antonio called to tell me that someone in Texas was trying to find me. It was a ‘land agent’, and said son had given him my contact information, and sure enough, in a day or two I got a phone call.

Seems that many years ago a cousin had left my darling mother-in-law about 36 acres near a town in South Texas, and she had done nothing about it. Some years later, after Dad had died and they sold their drug store, she decided that she was never going to leave Fort Worth, so she sold the land. But this being Texas, she retained half of the mineral rights.

Many more years passed, and she died, and 15 years ago her only child and sole heir (my husband) died, too. So that left me.

Last year, enter a drilling and development company, who planned to drill there for natural gas. But they had to establish who owned the mineral rights before they could start. As the lawyers explained, standard rights are 1/8 of the profit, and the current owner and I would split that, which means that I would get 1/16, if and when they ever find anything. Whoopee.

They told me it wouldn’t amount to a great deal --- they called it ‘mailbox money’ --- but who minds getting extra money in their mailbox? Of which, incidentally, I have so far seen none.

My kids have had great fun with my prospect of riches (very funny!) and with comparison to the movie Clampetts, and yadida yadida yadida.   I myself have had fun thinking about what I would do with it if it DID amount to anything. Which it probably won’t.

But it’s all made me think a great deal about a future event of which I AM sure, and where I’ll receive far more than six and a quarter percent! My Father in heaven has promised me permanent residence in a city of gold, where I will meet my Savior Jesus face to face, and where there will be no more tears, no more pain -- where I will be able to walk and even run and not be weary nor faint – where I will meet again so many people I love who have gone before me, and where I will praise my God forever!

I was 87 a few days ago, so I’ll get there before most of you. Don’t be sorry when I die. Just think of where I am, and know for sure that when you reach my age, you, too, will be happy to be going home.

--Norma Stockton

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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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