A Time of Change

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

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

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

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

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

—Norma Stockton

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

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

—Thor Knutstad

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Can We Talk About What Happened Sunday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Pastor Greg

It’s Time For a New School Year!

It’s time for a new school year!

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

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

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

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

--Sarah Howard

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Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Sophia Howard

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My TJ's Story

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

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

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

But TJ got sick, very sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God wasn’t finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe in an overcrowded ER in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thank you, Father. You are kind.

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

--Eileen Hill

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Power of the Tongue

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

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

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

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

It’s your choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray this blog blesses you friends,

--Lois Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

--Greg Hill

What Was I Thinking?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                      John 14:15-17

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

--Norma Stockton

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

Read Third John here 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Thor Knutstad

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

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I Don't Buy Things At Victoria's Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Sarah Howard

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Summertime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Sophia Howard

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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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