What is Worship About?

I had a conversation recently with someone about worship music.  They were talking about how worship music, whether in church or on the radio, makes them feel good and lifts their spirits on a bad day.  Since the early 90’s, worship music has been big.  Big in evangelical churches, big for Christian artists, big on Christian radio, and big for Christian music labels.  The lines have blurred where concerts have become worship events, and church services have become impressive performances.  I know I’m not the only one thinking it, but I’ll say it.  I don’t quite get it.

Maybe it’s my analytical nature, or my often-skeptical way of looking at things, but does anyone else feel a little uneasy about paying $25 for a ticket to see a famous performer in an arena worship Jesus?  Perhaps all that money is going to charity and not into making the performer rich, I get that.  And this is not so much a critique of the industry or the big names, but the fact that it even is an industry gives me pause.  Industries arise to fill needs.  Whose needs?  I don’t think it’s God’s needs, so it must be our needs.

And I know it makes you feel good, I’m not disputing that.  I often enjoy Sunday worship with its collective appeals to the truth of the gospel or its call of yearning for the presence of God.  But I have been in situations where I feel like a spectator, where the singer, between songs, will say random breathy god-isms with no context or meaning, or an emotive change of key seems to magically usher in the Spirit, and I can’t help but thinking… is this all about me?  Am I supposed to be the center of my worship experience?  Do we consume worship music simply because it makes us feel good? 

If I sound a little harsh, I apologize.  This is not intended to be a treatise on the evils of worship; far from it.  What I am attempting to do, ahead of this season of Advent, is to unmarry our tendencies toward consumerism with our experience of worship.  Worship is about one thing, be it through study, song, or prayer, and that one thing isn’t me.  My experience does not determine the quality of the event.

Throughout this holiday season, I will try to bear in mind that it is not primarily about me.  If I worship through giving, it’s not so I feel good.  If I worship through singing, it’s not for the emotional high.  Those things can be secondary effects, but making God the center of worship is what worship is about. 

--Jeff Hyson

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The Thanksgiving Stand-off

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“Are you sure it’s done?” Daddy asked, doubtfully. My mother was clearly annoyed. She angrily jabbed the turkey with her big cooking fork and a pink-tinged liquid dribbled down the golden breast and into the roaster. Tension filled the air. It was a Thanksgiving stand-off. I held my breath.

“I think it needs to cook a little longer,” Daddy said, quietly.

“It’s done,” my mom insisted, tersely. “I read somewhere that if a turkey leg can be easily pulled off, the turkey is done.” To illustrate, she grabbed a hot leg with a pot holder and yanked it. It didn’t budge. Embarrassed, but too proud to admit defeat, she wrapped two hands around the leg and strained with all her might to remove it from the rest of the bird. Not just pink-tinged liquid oozed out now; it was clearly bloody. Mom didn’t seem to notice, and I tried not to gag. She was adamant. That turkey was ready to be carved.

With a final tug for good measure, the stubborn leg snapped, propelling the roasting pan, half-cooked turkey and all, along the table top and onto the floor with a fearful crash!  The hapless turkey took one big bounce and skittered across the linoleum.

I’ve never seen my dad react to anything so quickly. In warp speed, he scooped up the sizzling turkey, wiped the bottom with a dish towel that magically appeared from the drawer, and set it on the waiting platter with a bang. “Well,” he replied, gently, his back to us as he turned to the sink. He ran cold water on his already-blistering hands. “You’re the cook.”

Our mouths hanging open in wonder, my mom and I glanced incredulously at each other. What had just happened? We stooped to mop up the spattered turkey grease that dripped from everything in the tiny kitchen. Mom began to sob uncontrollably. In response, Daddy knelt beside us with a rag. He patted my mom’s back tenderly. He looked over at me, huddled with them on the slippery floor and said, evenly, “We’ll keep this to ourselves, won’t we.” It was not a question.

Tension diffused. Battle averted. Stand-off over.  

That messy, cozy kitchen, overflowing with delightful aromas and steamy warmth, was suddenly filled with an incredible, almost tangible, peace.

The bird went back in the oven. Dinner was late. And the turkey still wasn’t cooked.

Later, I sat at the crowded table with our once-a-year family, doubling up on the savory stuffing and creamy mashed potatoes. I hoped no one noticed I had skipped the meat. Looking at my parents at the other end of the table, chatting and smiling, I felt an incredible warmness spread through me. I couldn’t have named or explained it right then, but it felt…wonderful. I think I had just been given a first-hand, real-live glimpse of grace.

It could have been a very embarrassing day for my mom. The kitchen could have become a war zone with more casualties than the turkey. Or it could have become the North Pole, filled with icy looks and cold shoulders. What could have been a miserable holiday for all of us, was, instead, instantly transformed into a delightful, memorable, and hilarious family story we still love to share more than fifty years later. What a special Thanksgiving blessing! I will always be grateful.

I’ve wondered through the years about that grace, the unearned and undeserved favor Dad poured out all over my frazzled mom that chaotic Thanksgiving morning. Had he not been the recipient of that same kind of grace from the heavenly Father, would he have been able to so freely and quickly extend it to Mama? I personally don’t think so.

Because my dad understood how much the Father had showered grace on him— a willful, sinful man—he had the capacity, ability, and the desire to do the same for my mother. The grace of God that had saved him had also instructed him to live in a new way; a way consistent with the character of the God Who now resided in him. Over and over, God’s grace had expressed itself to my dad in the forms of love, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control…and that is what he was able to pour on my mom. That beautiful grace birthed peace in our home. We all felt it. Our greased up, slimy kitchen had become a cathedral that Thanksgiving morning. And God Himself was our guest.

He didn’t care that the turkey wasn’t done.

May that same grace and peace be with you and yours this Thanksgiving Day.

Won’t you, won’t I, be thankful?

--Eileen Hill

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What Our Eyes See Is Often Not The Big Picture

Let me start by saying that what the title of this blog does not imply is that this is one of those things we often realize after the fact, not when in the middle of it.

I remember before my wife and I got married, we were faced with the possibility of not being able to have children of our own. This possibility however did not deter us from entering our marriage covenant. We were confident at that time that God had a purpose for our relationship and that He would give us the wisdom and grace to navigate what may come ahead of us in terms of having a family. It was not until almost nine years after our official marriage that God brought a wonderful nine year old girl into our lives to become our daughter! Not certainly what we saw back around the time of our engagement. I can also say this is not what we saw when we had a miscarriage or when family services approved us as we considered adopting a child. What we saw was certainly not the big picture!

In these days, as I read the biblical story of a special lady called Esther, I see that what she and her uncle Mordecai saw in the moment was not the big picture either. Esther was taken away from her tiny family and was enlisted among the virgins to enter the unofficial queen contest, or if not chosen, to perhaps become one of the king’s concubines. Well, I say you should read the rest of the story to learn about the many moments, some marked with high-level risks, which led to Esther becoming a queen at a time when her people, the Jews, where going to be destroyed by the king’s edict. What Mordecai and Esther did not see at some earlier point is that God would use her to deliver her people from being destroyed.

What are you seeing with your eyes in these days? What brings you fear or hopelessness? What leaves you empty or discouraged? What is eclipsing the preferable future God has promised to you? Be honest; I am sure there is something challenging or blocking some of your life’s expectations.

As you reflect in these questions, I encourage you to lean on stories like Esther’s. Not because the story lines are cool or intriguing. But rather because the one who wrote her story had a bigger picture in mind, and He is the one also writing the storylines of your life. I like one expectation God clearly sets before us in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Here the apostle Paul states:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

So even though you and I do not see the big picture today, God is really moving us from one degree of glory to another degree of glory. As we fix our hope in Jesus, we are guaranteed to obtain what is of most good and value. So don’t allow your eyes to trick you!

--Diego Cuartas

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Boundaries

Growing up, I was never taught what healthy boundaries were, therefore I experienced a lot of pain, hurt and abuse. In order to learn what healthy boundaries were and how to set them, I sought out a Christian counselor and attended weekly sessions for several years.

Now, being a Biblical Counselor myself, I see many people in my office each week who grew up like me in regard to boundaries. They never learned what they are nor did they learn how to set them, so their lives tend to be full of frustration. They're either overworked or underworked, depending upon if they are a doer or a taker.


In this video, Dr. Henry Cloud does an excellent job explaining what a boundary actually is and why they are so incredibly important in our lives. Grab a pen, pencil or crayon and a piece of paper. His explanation and drawing makes it very clear. Enjoy!

--Lois Robinson

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The God Who Sees When We Cannot

As universal as the experiences of suffering, poverty, love, beauty and others are, so it is our human experience regarding our inability to see what God sees. I was moved by the story counselor Julie Lowe shared via her blog earlier this year. In her blog, Julie relates her experience of not seeing what God can see as her son experiences a life-time disability. Click here to read her blog and be encouraged through her experience. More over, by what God revealed to her through his word.

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The Heart of a False Teacher Pt 5: Pillars or Pillows of Feathers?

When the truth of God is the heaviest weight upon you, you will treat human opinion and human approval only as a light feather. It will not be your main concern, and you will resolve to not walk in (or speak in) the compromise of error. But when you neglect the Glory (literally "weight") of the words of the LORD in the Scriptures, you will adjust your message and speech so as to gain (or keep or maintain) the approval of men. And this sadly reveals the true weight of your heart; then, instead of truth multiplied, deception abounds and pillars of useless feathers are piled up. I sadly see so many feathers lying around us all.

The desire for human approval that characterizes false teachers wants human approval, worldly recognition, and even the blessings of the marketplace and craves the glories of human institutions. It creates empty talk that spreads like gangrene; and instead of a pillar of Truth, this error-filled talk that lacks real authority is a sleep-filled slumbered pillow. Yes, it's a just a feather-filled pillow, only useful for sleep and slumber. Sadly, these feathers are bought and sold every day; and sleep is so prevalent. I see lots of feathers lying around, sadly.

Awake, beloved shepherd pastors and church of Christ! My heart senses that the Truth (who is Christ Jesus) and His sound doctrine biblically has little weight on many; and this great error of deception (feather-filled pillows) are the true fleshly sensual preference. No, no, no. Arise and wake up and be alert! Do you feel the cemented pillared weight of the Word, or do you build your church (or life) feather by feather into a comfortable sleep-filled pillow?! Woe to you if you prefer error to Truth! Wake up and confess to the Lord God that you love the approval of men, and repent, and then maybe the LORD will reveal to you the pillared Truth of Scripture - and also show you Himself and His Son, Christ Jesus who is Messiah, the Way, the Life, and yes, the Truth, and the Spirit of Truth too.  For in and around Him (Christ) is no feather; rather, He is the Chief Cornerstone and true Truth pillar of the Church. Praise Him.

—Thor Knutstad

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Book Review: Hope When It Hurts

I read a book this summer that I really enjoyed: Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections To Help You Grasp God’s Purpose In Your Suffering. 

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The authors are two women, Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton. And these two women are walking the balance between having things in their lives that they deeply struggle with, and also, at the same time, holding on to the deep, true, beautiful, hopeful reality that God is present right there in their suffering. They ask questions like 'What does that balance look like for me, right now, as I struggle with real pain?'

I would recommend this book to anyone that feels like they are walking through difficult circumstances in life and they just aren't quite sure how to hold onto the reality of Jesus with them in the middle of the difficulty. The authors reference physical pain, parenting pain, abuse, depression, job loss...but the content is applicable to various sorts of suffering. I'm also excited about this book, as our pastors at Living Faith Alliance have recently been preaching about our deep need to ask our hard questions about life and 'find counsel outside of ourselves' in the Bible. That's exactly what these authors, Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton, do: in short, easy to read chapters, they move through a passage of Scripture (2 Corinthians 4-5). They base each chapter on a phrase from the passage, and they write about how that is still true, right now, even in the midst of suffering. They don't just offer their own thoughts or opinions about suffering and pain. They point us back to what God has said through the Bible, what is true and can be counted on, again and again and again. If you want to be challenged to lift your eyes to see what can be gloriously true in the middle of suffering, while also still acknowledging and living with pain, read this book. 

Hope When It Hurts feels very level-headed to me: like someone helpfully just pushing me back to God's Word over and over, without a lot of fluff. The authors keep bringing each chapter back to the foundational BASICS of what it looks like to be a God-follower. They ask the honest, scary questions that I myself have had in times of suffering, that I wouldn't necessarily voice out loud, and they answer them in a way that is Biblical and life-giving. 

On a side-note, some might ask, is this book solely for women? The cover looks very feminine and the authors are two women sharing their stories. Would men find this book helpful or engaging? I tried to keep that in mind as I read. I imagine it would appeal deeply to women; I also imagine that men would have to 'get past' a few components, such as the presentation of the book. But the general content is excellent and good for men as well.

--Sarah Howard

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Conflict: An Opportunity for Revelation and Reconciliation

Conflict in and of itself does not feel good, and we could even say it is not good for the most part. However, it is true that conflict affords us certain opportunities that if not missed can leave those involved in a better place. This week I want to recommend a blog from Pete Scazzero, founder of a ministry that seeks to help individuals find emotional health and maturity. Click here to read his blog on conflict.

--Diego Cuartas

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Asking the Hard Questions

There is an odd dynamic familiar to those who have grown up in the evangelical church.  It begins to show up our early teens, and sometimes sticks around indefinitely.  From the time we are old enough to listen, children are told the truths and facts about God.  We learn them from our parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and any other church leader given a chance to impart this knowledge.  We might be led in the sinner's prayer to accept Jesus into our hearts, because if we don't, well, you know.  We are told of Jesus' love for us, so much so that he dies for our mistakes.  Just like math and reading, we are taught what to believe from people we have no reason to distrust.  Things are progressing smoothly.

And then, sometime around middle school, we are hit with this:

                Your faith needs to be your own.

Wait, what? I thought everything you told me was true.  Can't I just base my faith on that?  Why have I gone through all this training, only to find out that I now need to rediscover and reaffirm all of it myself? 

Some take it and run with it.  They embrace the brief journey, never missing a beat.  They have the strong and unquestioned foundation on which to build their own spiritual identity, nearly indistinguishable from the starter pack they received.  Honestly, this is what a lot of parents wish for their children.  I've had several friends take this path.

Some take it and just run.  They have been given a free pass to decide for themselves which path to choose, and they want nothing to do with the religion of their parents.  They discover some inconsistencies in the narrative, and toss the whole thing aside.  I've had a few friends take this path as well.

Some take it and wrestle with it.  They know what they've been taught, and they take the task of making their faith "their own" seriously.  These are the people who ask the hard questions.  This is the path that I want my children to choose.

Sometimes this process is called "deconstruction".  It is taking what I've been told, breaking it down to its fundamental parts, examining the pieces.  If this concept seems scary of foreign, think about the alternative: belief in what someone once told you without giving it any critical thought.  I mean, maybe they were right, but maybe not.  If they were right, then deconstructing will reveal their teaching to be true, with the added bonus of giving you the basis for believing it.  If they were wrong, you can now critically assess what the truth is.

We tend to think that asking tough questions shows a lack of faith, when in reality, asking tough questions is the only way to strengthen our faith in what is true.  At LFA, we are beginning a series on "Knowing God: Current Questions, Timeless Doctrines," and I am excited to be able to explore some hard questions. 

I don't think God calls us to blind faith.  I believe that he wants us to find our faith through searching, wrestling, and asking hard questions. Then we come out on the other side with an authentic faith, and one that is our own.

--Jeff Hyson

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A Legacy

I could hear the angry wind bullying the trees and shrubs outside my frosty window, slamming sleet, branches, and brittle leaves harshly against the glass. After such a mild winter, this nasty blizzard wannabe in mid-March caught me off-guard. Old Man Winter’s last hurrah. I shivered in the cold and watched a small caravan of utility trucks crawl by on the icy road in front of my home.  “My heroes,” I whispered to myself, grateful.

We had no power.  Sometime in the night, somewhere down the road, something had torn down power lines. We had no electricity, no heat, no phone service, no water—a very miserable way to begin a very miserable day. Of course, I hadn’t thought to charge my phone the night before either.  But worst of all, no coffee! I slumped into our comfy, new recliner and pulled a faded coverlet up to my nose. Ah, warmth. Hopefully the power would be restored soon. I had a lot to do.

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In the filtered light, with a rare uncluttered morning unfolding, I absently noticed that my hand rested on a patchwork child in a big sunbonnet. In fact, the hand-sewn quilt was covered with meticulously stitched little girls decked out in carefully coordinated calico bonnets and dresses. What a labor of love! I was wrapped in hours of tedious sewing! This heirloom had been tucked in the bottom of my hope chest, overlooked for years. Recently, sorting and cleaning, I had discovered it and carelessly thrown it in the laundry. As I ran a finger over the design, appreciating its intricate beauty perhaps for the first time, happy memories settled over me, warming me like the quilt had moments earlier. The names! How had I missed them? What if I had ruined them with the washing?

On aqua patches, a telling clue to the age of this gift, someone with lovely cursive handwriting had artfully inscribed the names of every person on the membership roll at First Baptist Church in Elmer, my hometown church.  I wished I could remember who. I smiled as I examined the square by my elbow. My funny bone was resting on Kenny’s name! How funny! Nestled there among his parents and six siblings was Kenneth Hill, a name I would proudly take a few years after this quilt had been lovingly given to my daddy in the early sixties. I smiled again, remembering how, smitten with puppy love, I would wrap myself up on Sunday afternoons when this blanket was new, making sure the Hill square was near my heart.  Sweet, precious memories.  

One by one, as I read each name, old and long-forgotten faces flashed brilliantly up on a dusty screen hastily hung in the recesses of my mind. Like stars in old home movies, the folks smiled and waved; my heart was warmed again. I pushed the now cozy chair back further and closed my eyes. All those names. All those people. All Daddy’s legacy.

If I remember the story correctly, Daddy was elected as Sunday School Superintendent when he was yet a teenager. The responsibility compelled him to hitch hike across the country to Illinois where he enrolled in and attended Wheaton College; he had decided he would obtain a biblical education to help him better carry out his duties. He was very serious about the job he had been entrusted with…for decades.

It became a family affair. We helped plan the annual picnic, we sorted materials, we previewed filmstrips and Christmas programs, we made posters to promote events, we cleaned the Sunday School closet at church, we visited new families that had come to First Baptist, we wrapped up Christmas fruit and candy, attendance pins, and award Bibles to give away at certain seasons of the year, and we helped host the teacher training meetings Daddy held quarterly in our home. We loved them. We would lie at the top of the steps and listen to the teachers complain about or praise their students, unaware that three sets of curious little ears were intently gathering any juicy gossip they could. And my mother would bake and fuss all day, the glorious smells of freshly brewed coffee and spicy applesauce cake floating up that dark stairway to taunt us, the Banished-to-the Bedroom Bunch. No TV, no phones, no computers, no hand-held electronic games. What on earth did we do? Eavesdrop, what else?

The worst part, though, of having a Sunday School Superintendent for a dad was us having to be at church a half-hour or more earlier than anybody else each Sunday morning. Daddy wanted to make sure all the rooms were set up and that the Sunday School papers were ready for distribution. He loved to greet his teachers and offer a word of encouragement or answer any concerns or questions they had. He wanted to meet the families as they arrived, making certain he knew everyone and that each one felt personally welcomed. But we hated the Sunday morning rush, all of us clamoring at the same time for the one bathroom we shared. Even though weekday mornings we all were out of the house two and a half hours earlier, Sunday always seemed to be chaotic and we kids resented his hurry-up-and-wait plan. We probably drove him crazy. If he was anything, he was conscientious, purposeful, and punctual.

It was my childhood perception, one I still hold today, that my dad was loved and highly esteemed at church. I think the quilt that was so carefully crafted and so affectionately given to him for his years of faithfully serving as Superintendent speaks to and validates my impression.

My dad was not a handsome, assertive, outgoing, or charismatic man. He was quiet, plain, and humble. He loved God. He loved God’s people. So he served them both.

My dad died only a few months after he received the quilt. I was seventeen years old. He was fifty-two. From that day to this, I still hear about how Daddy influenced a situation, cared for a particular family, impacted some person, or taught a random group. He studied God’s Word, he shared his Gospel story, he marveled at creation, he prayed for the broken, and he visited the sick and elderly. To put it succinctly, Daddy loved. Under the radar, he quietly went about his Father’s business of making disciples, of building a legacy. I wonder how many names could be added to his quilt if all those he touched for the kingdom were inscribed there? How big would it have to be?

As I stretch my legs in my chair, I’m struck with a thought. In spite of the warmth the quilt has provided me, I shiver as I consider it. I have outlived my dad by many years. So how big is my quilt? The size of a napkin? A lap blanket? A king-size comforter? Just what or who is written on it? What is my legacy?

We all have one. What will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

I was privileged to be Daddy’s daughter. I was well-trained. His lessons were both taught and caught. Out of an over-flow of love for a God who first loved me and gave himself to rescue me, I am compelled to love and esteem others better than myself. With whatever gifts I have been graciously given, I must spend myself on behalf of the Gospel. Not for a quilt. That was a very kind gesture from the church in Elmer to my dad, one that surprised and embarrassed him. But even if my obedience and my efforts to love and serve others go completely unnoticed, I know my Father in heaven sees. Isn’t that all that really matters? What I do, big or small, really must be done for an audience of just One. I think that’s what Daddy did. I want to, too.

My children won’t have a quilt to comfort them when I’m sitting at the feet of Jesus with my parents. My grandkids won’t have a litany of names to smile about, remembering puppy-love and first beaus. But my prayer is that they all will have my invisible quilt wrapped around their hearts that is gratefully inscribed with the words “faithful, obedient, beloved daughter of the King.”  That is the legacy I aspire to. Don’t you?

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,

if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received

 from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

(Acts 20:24)

 

--Eileen Hill

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God As I Desire Him To Be

Do we really trust in God, or do we do so as long as He helps us gain what we want for our lives? Author Skye Jethani exposes some faulty ways in which we think about God and how we end up living a Christian life very different than the one God invites us to. Jethani argues that the Christian life is a life where we are invited to live with God, not under, over, from or for God. Click here to watch this brief, clear and helpful reflection.

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Charmin Toilet Paper, Children and Youth

I was considering what to write about this time around, and my blog happens to fall right smack dab on the week many children will be returning to school. Whether it’s public, private, charter or home school, kids are heading back for another year of learning. It has been interesting; this week there have been a whole host of cancellations due to back to school things, appointments having to change to accommodate new bus schedules. I called to make a doctor’s appointment, and the receptionist said that they have had many cancellations and no shows this week as well. Sometimes the franticness of back to school can be overwhelming. For some, it is an utter relief to get back into a schedule again. I leaned toward writing on what I call “The Schedule Monster”, but that can wait for another time.

I chose this: challenging parents to dive into the culture of our children and youth in order to be a soft place to land from the world. I actually Googled Charmin, and this is the advertisement for it:

Charmin Ultra Soft Mega Roll is the same great softness you love, but just more of it! ... Charmin Ultra Soft is our softest toilet paper ever, so it is harder than ever to resist! ... See for yourself why Charmin Ultra Soft Mega Roll is a great long-lasting choice for you and your family.

The softness you love and harder than ever to resist! The great long-lasting choice for you and your family!! Wow, if only we would be willing to dive into the current culture of our children and youth and get educated and learn about what they face, at very young ages, on a daily or weekly basis- not only in the public schools, but everywhere. Unless the child never leaves the home, has no friends, or any way of communicating with the outside world, he or she will be influenced by the world in some way. Please note, the goal would definitely not be moving toward the above protection methods to insulate your child from the world either. Thought I had better add that!

I meet many parents on a weekly basis in my office who are not aware of what their children or youth are involved in. Electronics are not monitored, protected with parental controls nor boundaries set up for their usage. Another example: years ago, I had a six year old little boy who came into my office looking very sad and a bit nervous. He told me he needed to talk to me about something but was afraid to. I told him he could tell me anything and I would do my best to help him in the ways I was able. He proceeded to tell me that the kids in his Kindergarten class wanted him to have sex with a girl in his class. That’s right, he said have sex with a little girl in his class. He then said he didn’t know what that meant, and his parents told him he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. He was crying by now. I calmly explained in age appropriate ways, what sex meant and that he was not going to do that with the little girl in his class. He was relieved. Our meeting time ended, and I informed his parents what our talk was about. Due to their own issues, they weren’t willing to walk him through it and withdrew him from our sessions. I have always wondered whatever happened to him.

Our children and youth need us. They need us to be that soft place to land. They need us to communicate daily with them. They need us to teach them and model for them, how to make good choices in life. They need us to love them by actually showing them we want to be educated and learn about their culture.

WE need to be their soft place to land at home. WE need to be the ones that ask them to teach US about THEIR worlds. WE need to become students of their culture. If we don’t learn about it, we will walk in ignorance and discipline through ignorance. We must seek to understand first before making harsh judgments and hiding behind Christian-ese talk. Our religiosity can begin to stink and push desperate kids away from Jesus, all because we insist it must look and act a certain way- your way.

Please parents, caregivers, anyone who pours into children and youth: it is our job to teach our kids what is Truth so when they do hear lies, they can tell the difference. We must be the ones who mold and shape them so when they have the blunt offered to them they will reject it. When they are invited to perform sexual favors in the school bathroom, they will say no. When they are sent a porn pic, they will tell you. Communication is HUGE. Humility is huge. Treat your kids with respect. Know them. Really know them. Please don’t write them off and wait for them to become 25, when it’s easier. Jesus doesn’t write anybody off and neither should we. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it encouraged you if you already have become the educated, soft place to land or challenged you to become that soft place.

There are plenty of resources available. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Talking to Your Kids About Sex- Dr. Mark Laaser
  • Unglued and Tattooed - Sara Trollinger
  • Five Love Languages of Teenagers- Gary Chapman
  • Five Love Languages of Children- Gary Chapman
  • Group magazine Youth Ministry- Rick Lawrence youthministry.com
  • Duffy Robbins CPYU.org
  • Josh McDowell josh.org

--Lois Robinson

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Rabbit

Once upon a time, we had a sweet, loving dog who thought that she should be mother to all small creatures. Puppies were not in her future, but she would hopefully bring us very wet, very well licked candidates. It might be a kitten from next door, or a baby squirrel, or a mouse – whatever she could find that she thought needed mothering. 

One day she brought us a very wet little bunny. Naturally, the girls wanted to keep it and turn it into yet another pet. Veto. I grew up in a city, and knew absolutely nothing about rabbits who were not named Flopsy and Mopsy and Peter, and for all I knew they might carry rabies!  My husband the hunter, whose main interest in rabbits was hasenpfeffer, was very little help. But he did have the idea that if we took the bunny back out to the woods a little way behind our house its mother would find it or it would find its way home. So that’s what we decided to do.

I didn’t go the whole way back to the woods; it certainly didn’t take all of us to let a bunny out of a box. I just watched from about half way, and off they went. They put the box on the ground, pointed it toward the trees, tipped it up and out ran the bunny. But to my horror the stupid and probably rabid rabbit turned around and ran straight back toward ME!

I shrieked; I turned around and flew toward the house (I was 50 years younger then and highly motivated) while the demented and surely diseased bunny came right for me, gaining with every bound! I was screaming “Help! Help!” but no one helped me! And when I looked over my shoulder, there was my husband doubled over and crying with laughter, joined by my obnoxious children who were holding their sides and rolling on the ground! But blessedly, just before it was close enough to bite me, the bunny swerved out and under a shrub and down a hole which was undoubtedly home sweet home! I guess he didn’t live in the woods after all.

Over the years I have made so many unwise decisions, all based on a lack of knowledge and understanding. But God is good, and I have surely found that the lessons learned through my human errors are the ones that have stuck. It’s troubling to realize how many times I have constructed my own problems through pride or ignorance, and then had to suffer the consequences. But God has always stepped in, and lovingly shown me the way He wanted for me, and assured me that I was not expected to straighten out the whole world, or solve all its problems, that I have enough to keep me busy with my own. Often the consequences of error are more serious than being laughed at over a frightened bunny, and I know that my life is much more satisfying when I trust God for directions before I act. (I guess that’s why Proverbs 3:5-8 mean so much to me):

                  Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

                     Do not depend on your own understanding.

                  Seek his will in all you do,

                     And he will show you which path to take.

                  Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.

                     Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

                  Then you will have healing for your body

                     and strength for your bones.

 

--Norma Stockton

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The Heart of a False Teacher, Part 4 - Demanding Signs & Wonders: When Jesus Sighed Deeply

Did you know that Jesus sighed deeply? I would like to think that my Lord, Christ Jesus, the God-Man Messiah, never really sighed over people. But He absolutely did. He sighed deeply in one particular situation. Sighing is a sign of discouragement and displeasure, the body language of a deeper disapproval of the person or a group or of a situation. It's a natural response of breathing as a result of almost head shaking grief and utter disappointment. It's our version of, "You guys don't get it!" without saying a word. In Mark 8:12, John Mark writes, "He (Jesus) sighed deeply and said 'Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given it.'" To whom is our Lord responding? Is He saying this to the crowd of four thousand men whom He just fed miraculously (Mark 8:1-9)? The sigh may (somewhat) be for them, but the heart of His deep sigh is actually for the Pharisees. It was for the ones who questioned Him, who tested Him, and who plotted and planned against Him. Mark 8:11 says, "The Pharisees began to question Him. To test Him, they asked Him for a sign from heaven."

I think I can almost envision what happened in that moment. I picture in my mind that the Lord closed His eyes, gave a quick shake of His head, perfectly coordinated with a deep inhale followed immediately by a long exhale - one that is heard and seen and felt by anyone nearby. It's a moment of the Lord bringing condescension over not just their foolish request, but over their fleshly inner hearts. If you have ever sighed as such, even your shoulders as they shrug in this moment display a mode of sadness and disapproval. But more than His sighing, Jesus says "No" to their demand. Right after He has just done a miracle of feeding so many publicly, they demand a sign. It's audacious. Their purposes were not noble. So He sighs deeply.

Jesus knew that they were looking to accuse Him. He knew that they were the real blasphemers who attributed His true work not to the Holy Spirit, but to the power of Satan. He knew they hated Him and wanted Him dead. He knew that they hated His influence. So, Jesus sighed deeply. There's a merciful longing and loving patience in a deep sigh; sure, it's combined with a deep disapproval of their demand. Maybe as they try to trap Him, He can actually see a longer pending judgment. It is not the intent of my heart to over-interpret Christ's deep sigh, but I have sighed over similar situations and people. There's a love in that inhale and exhale that is observant of a deeper blindness. There's an injustice in seeing the Truth rejected. Maybe the Lord just feels them putting Him to the test. Wisely, He refuses to sharpen His pencil and won't succumb to their supposed exam by giving them their wanted sign. So instead of a sign, He sighs deeply. You gotta love the bold candor and upfront authority of Christ in these decision moments. He stands up to them so many times, and I fear we miss it. Often, we easily see the astounding miracle but miss the master missionary take on the establishment. Maybe this is what Paul meant when he said that we sometimes only look at the surface of things; it's a call to go deeper. We have to look inside of things.

In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus strongly rebukes the Pharisees (mainly the Sanhedrin) and the teachers of the law (the scribes) by saying this in reply to their demand of a sign: "A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign" followed by a deep sigh. They had already accused Him falsely. They were already plotting to destroy Him. They looked to bring charges against Him or catch Him in something He would say. They questioned Him voraciously to try to trap Him. And so, the Creator as God-Man, the literal Truth standing before them, sighs deeply. Oh, to have the heart of our Lord! His merciful heart gets put on display not in signs and wonders, but in moments like this where He sighs deeply. His Godly gasp at their wickedness isn't one of surprise; it's body language that says, "You are wrong!"

Our beloved sweet Savior sighs deeply not over every sin, but over FALSE RELIGION and WOLFERY (my word) - He's sighing over the false prophets, false teachers, false apostles, and false brothers who disguise themselves in sheep's clothing. You see, the deception of the deceivers who masquerade as angels of light are not unseen. These hidden reefs are exposed by the Scriptures because God's Word unveils their exploitive greedy works, their self-centered preeminentness, their lack of real love, their mystical materialistic experiences, their desires for money, and their lack of Truth discernment. Their bad fruit smells of rotten in Denmark. Their instincts for more deceive them and give them away. Their hatred of chosen true pastors who cling to the Scriptures without apology in white knuckle fashion is a dead giveaway.

Sometimes, like the Lord, I SIGH DEEPLY. I observe a real blindness that comes from a scheming enemy. I SIGH DEEPLY. I watch the itching ears that have gathered teachers in accordance with principles of experiences and signs and wonders. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see people united in error when they should actually remember that Christ divides as He cuts to the quick of the heart of men and women; for a false unity isn't unity at all. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see a perilous trap set by many false Christs, false gospels, and false spirits - the kind of error and deception that people put up with deception and error so easily (when the plain truth dictates otherwise). I SIGH DEEPLY. I see senseless shepherds who have jumped on liberal ecumenical bandwagons and so called marketplace ministries for the security of a false unity and for greedy gain. They are not secure in their strongholds of approval from others, for the Lord contends against those paper walls too; God disapproves of their desire to please men and the hearts for money and possessions. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see self-appointed authorities who put words in God's mouth and take words out of His mouth too. They have no standard for preaching and teaching, and they neglect the Truth proclamation of Scripture. This is forbidden and grievous! Oh my! I SIGH DEEPLY. I hear false visions spoken from their own minds because they are not called by God and not sent by God - because they do not trust Him to rely on His Holy Word. Their authority is counterfeit as false spiritual leaders. They add to and take away from the Scriptures. Woe to them! I SIGH DEEPLY.

My heart senses a bit of Solomon's grief and sadness from this knowledge of God, for the wise man has much to grieve about and upon. Like our Lord, Solomon probably also sighed very deeply. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see evil being called good and good being called evil (and by those who should know better!). I see the righteous accused and found guilty and the wicked set free and declared innocent. I see an unrestrained flesh even in many supposed spiritual leaders, where covetous greed and dirty, deluded hearts reveal a darker inside. What?! Oh my! I SIGH DEEPLY. I see murmurers and complainers who spread the contagion of false religion by their counterfeit authority - these religious hypocrites, who like actors, wear the masks of deception and the theatrical and "false humility" emotionalism. I SIGH DEEPLY. I see a haughty pomp of pride that lacks real true humility, and I see it marked and masked in a false manner of deception that manipulates with strategy and guile. I see many who are walking (and talking) in error, but I observe a hopeful remnant few who actually do covenant with true Truth. So, as I sigh deeply, I also praise Him who is Christ - the Savior who takes away the sin of the world. He deals with those who cause His (and my) deep sighs. And like all the tears someday, the sighs too, His and mine, will ultimately finally end. But for now, the sighs remain.

--Thor Knutstad

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Surely Goodness and Mercy Will Follow Me

Every summer for the past several years, my parents and my siblings and their kids, who are now scattered all over the country, and even in South America, come together for a yearly get-together. Our time together usually lasts somewhere between 3-6 weeks. When we're all together, it's 22 people in one big house on a lake. Those weeks are so many things: simply wonderful to be together again, at the lake; intense to be all together, 5 families in one house, for those concentrated weeks; chaotic and funny and FULL.

But when everyone leaves...it's empty. 

Some years when the family get-togethers are over, I feel thankful for the space that the emptiness creates: the return to regular life and relationships, margin to catch up on responsibilities. But this year, the emptiness has left me feeling sad, grieving the void they left, suddenly unsure of what I even did before they were all here. It's been a strange feeling and I've been trying to regain my emotional footing.

In the midst of the vacuum that my family's departure has created for me, I have September and the school year staring me in the face. I'm sending both of my daughters to school this year...and for the first time in what? 7 years? 8 years? I won't have any children at home during the day. 

The sadness and the emptiness that I feel about my family has started to kind of...intimidate me about my girls going to school in the fall, too. I've started to wonder, 'What if I just keep feeling even MORE empty when they're gone, too? What if I don't like them being in school, and the space that it creates for me is just SAD and EMPTY and it leaves me in a more confused place?' Those worries have left me feeling fearful, a little bit worried, and intimidated. 

Sitting on the couch yesterday afternoon, I was telling Caleb about these things. It always takes me awhile to remember that I probably won't be helped by trying to figure out my emotions on my own, inside my own head. It'll help to talk. I just forget that helpful fact every time I feel a confusing emotion.

But it really did help to talk out what I was feeling. Caleb reminded me of a theme I was holding onto awhile back. I even wrote several blogs about it. Sometimes I forget the things that meant so much to me at one point of my life...and then I need to be reminded again. It's a little annoying. But anyway, he reminded me that I used to hold onto the truth from Psalm 23 that says: 

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

Remembering all that that verse signifies for me helped my soul take a deep breath and it was like I could almost feel the intimidation starting to back pedal. In more words, what 'goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life' means for me is that, in Christ, good is around the cornerDisaster is not around the corner. Destruction is not around the corner. My life falling apart is not around the corner.

GOOD is around the corner. 

Good might not always look ideal. But because of Jesus and His love and His power and His commitment to never stop doing good to me, even hard will be good for me.

So I can pretty much rest about the fall, rest about what I might feel, what my life might be like, because I know I will have Jesus, and I know that with Him, it will be good.

Check out my previous blogs I wrote on 'good around the corner' 2 years ago:

Good Around the Corner Part 1

Good Around the Corner Part 2

Good Around the Corner Part 3

Good Around the Corner Part 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HERE I Raise My Ebenezer

If anyone was wanting a glimpse at my writing process, here it is. It is currently 3:26 on Tuesday morning, which is the day that this is due, and here I am beginning to type away. The girls are asleep. Joel is asleep. I am sitting on my couch next to one dimly lit lamp, with the whir of the fan and the tapping of my keys breaking the silence. It’s quite peaceful actually. Why am I writing this late? Is it because I procrastinated? Actually no. When it comes to writing these blogs I have now learned to trust the process, and I enjoy it. I think about my topic and wait for inspiration all month long, knowing that this blog entry is coming up. Even up to the day before I mull it over and mull it over. I usually have an idea and begin writing much before this 3am time only to scrap everything and start over when that alarm goes off. I always go to bed thinking, “This is dumb. You are setting your alarm for 3 as if you are actually going to be able to wake up and think clearly.” Yet, for whatever reason, it works every time and so here I am again.   

What is on my mind this 3 am? This morning I am basking in the afterglow of God’s incredible goodness these months. This past Sunday evening, some of you may have seen my post on Facebook bragging on my husband who swept me away on an AMAZING surprise date. What I couldn’t relay in one little post was the incredible significance that time held. After six years of relationship, four years of marriage, two children, many joys and many struggles, my husband having taken all of that into consideration set up this date to commemorate all that God has done.   

He had our little adventure all planned out. We traveled to Philly and ate at a good restaurant where I had THE BEST SCALLOPS EVER (seriously), then we went to the top of Liberty one observation deck where you get a 360 degree un-obscured view of the city. Once we were up there he sat me down at a high table next to the window. With the sun setting over a beautiful view, he explained to me that his reason for doing this was to acknowledge all that we have been through and all that God has done. He pulled out a jewelry box and said, “Here are two of the most precious things God has given to us.” I opened the box to a beautiful tree locket with pictures of my gorgeous girls inside. Well, cue heart melting and tears because I lost it.   

My husband and I go on weekly dates that aren’t as elaborate as this one. However, whenever we have the chance to celebrate a milestone or anniversary we go all out. Going all out doesn’t mean that we spend huge amounts of money every time. Sometimes we go all out in our creativity and thoughtfulness. We have noticed that while we have gotten used to suffering in some ways we want to be good at celebrating too. Some people wonder what it is that we do when we date or will make comments like, “What are you celebrating this time???”

So what do we celebrate? Honestly, sometimes it is just the fact that, “Phew!” we made it through the week and we still have each other. Other times, and many other times at that, we are celebrating some aspect of our love story and how we love being together. Recognizing our part in a bigger story, we want to be quick to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness in our relationship, so we invest in our marriage. On August 6, 2017 we raised a hypothetical Ebenezer as we recounted again God’s miraculous help and enjoyed our time.

Just like in writing, I am learning to trust the whole process and enjoy the ride. Even though life can be a mixed bag of circumstances, I still have reason to celebrate. I don’t know if you are anything like me, but I sometimes live as though my life is categorized into extremes. I shift in my thinking from everything is great to everything is awful or from hope to fear and back again. I have wrestled with the lie that I must be ok with pain OR faith-filled, like in Pastor Greg’s sermon on lament, as if the two can’t mix; and I have thought that celebration can only accompany “big news.” To me our more elaborate dates combat that thinking and celebrate a God who prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. I am finding that life is not always cut into nice even pieces, and I can’t postpone joy until it all pans out according to my ideals. Life is messy and complicated and simultaneously filled with joy and pain, laughter and tears, yet the midst of it all I have met Jesus over and over again with his sleeves rolled up and engaging me in the mix of it all.

Risk Wrapped in Bacon

In 2015, the World Health Organization designated bacon as a Class 1 carcinogen, meaning it is in the same class as smoking tobacco when it comes to causing cancer.  But it isn’t just bacon, it’s any processed meat, such as ham, pepperoni, corned beef, pastrami, etc.  It was big news, and it made people think twice before consuming bacon.

Apparently thinking twice about bacon just makes you hungry for more bacon.  I recently spotted an article about America’s bacon shortage, citing “higher than ever” demand for the delicious meat.  In fact, the article went on to say, pig farms now have record high “hog herd” numbers, and it still is not enough meat to meet the demand.

How do we reconcile these two facts?  Bacon probably causes cancer, and Americans can’t get enough bacon.  Do we just love to live dangerously?  If everyone knows it’s risky, why do we still eat it?

We continue to eat bacon because the perceived benefit (deliciousness) is greater than the perceived risk (might get cancer some day).  And while bacon is an easy target, the truth is, we do this sort of risk analysis all the time.  Often, declaring one’s faith feels very risky (and in some cultures, it is), yet people do it.  Sometimes, challenging a long-held belief can be risky, because we don’t know where it will take us.  Examining what is wrong in our lives is risky because who wants to do that?  But we accept the risk when we decide the benefit will be greater.  

For those of us who grew up in the church, maintaining our belief system is safe.  It is easy to ignore anything that challenges our comfort, our moral or theological constructs, or our way of seeing the world.  But growth doesn’t happen in this comfort zone.  Growth happens when we take risks.

In my own life, challenging lifelong ideas and assumptions that were starting to unravel felt risky.  If I wanted a deeper faith, I needed to “deconstruct” what I thought I knew about God.  I knew the possible risks included alienating my devout family and friends, and possibly being left with no faith or God at all.  But I knew that not asking the tough questions would lead to a faith that was stagnant and shallow. 

Choosing to accept this risk has had some profound implications and effects on my life.  Not being scared to take risks leads to a “growth” mentality, as opposed to a “maintenance” mentality.  Instead of trying to maintain the status quo, we can step out into uncertain territory, knowing that we will grow from the experience.  Otherwise we run the risk of a boring and stagnant faith that does not reflect the vibrant, passionate, risk-taking Jesus that we profess to follow. 

As I’ve tried to live this out, I often recognize ways that people around me are accepting the risks as well.  For my kids this summer, helping with Camp Grace was a risk.  Going into neighborhoods to build relationships with kids they don’t know was a challenge, much more so than sitting at home playing video games.  And I can see that they’ve grown and benefitted from it.  Because growth doesn’t happen in our comfort zone.  Growth happens when we take risks.

By the way, Jesus didn’t eat bacon, and neither should you.  That stuff is terrible for you.  Well, it’s bacon… maybe it’s worth the risk.

-- Jeff Hyson

 

A Perfect Day for Fishing

It was a perfect day for fishing.

And Asher wanted to go fishing for his 7th birthday.

Now I won’t say that what Asher wants, Asher gets, but we are grandparents, after all. We have a reputation to uphold. And this seemed like a pretty reasonable and easy request. Pop is all about spending time together, teaching his grandkids new things, being outside in the sunshine, and just having fun. He bought the first rod and reel he found.

I’m not sure who loved the gift more, Asher or Pop. No matter. The next day was one of those midsummer beauties, breezy and bright with little to no humidity. A perfect day. Late in the afternoon, the “men” excitedly piled into our little Ford and headed to a shady irrigation pond on Pop’s cousin’s farm just the other side of Elmer. The birthday boy’s adventure was on.

Now the rest of the story comes second-hand to me and there are several differing accounts, I might add. After a couple of hours, the fishing party exploded  back into the house in a burst of noisy energy, each one chattering and laughing all at once, trying to be the first to relate their tall tales.

So here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Law’s first catch of the day was only slightly bigger than his bait.

Jude, snagging the biggest bass of the afternoon, was so excited he forgot to reel in his line. He simply yanked his rod back over his head so hard that the not-really-a-flying-fish fish flew into the tree overhead, snagging leaves and branches in its aerial debut.  Hard to look like a pro when you’re climbing a tree to demonstrate your catch and release strategy.

Meanwhile, Pop, carefully lecturing the proper way to remove the hook from a slippery sunny, was in the middle of his diatribe. “You very carefully take the fish and hold him like this…” Suddenly, the little guy flapped his razor-sharp tail, catching Pop off guard. Some say he squealed like a little girl. Others say it sounded more like a baby pig. Either way, Pop isn’t talking; he’s just bleeding.

Greg, luckily, was so busy untangling lines, keeping track of the tackle, and baiting hooks, he escaped much ridicule. There was a lot of that going around, I’m told.

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And then there was the birthday boy. His first catch was rather shakily recorded for posterity on his dad’s phone. I heard later it actually was a reenactment. Still, it is adorable. Nervous but obviously proud, Asher gingerly holds out the line with the wriggling fish (another sunny?) hanging on the end of his hook for the obligatory photo op. He is beaming. Amid cheers and Atta boys, Asher was informed by his second-cousin-twice-removed that a man always has to kiss his first fish on the lips because she might turn into a beautiful mermaid for him to marry when he grows up. Standard operating procedure for real fishermen. Initiation rites. You can hear Asher’s little voice repeating to a completely deaf audience over and over, a bit louder and a lot firmer each time, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” Really adorable.

Asher continued to catch fish the rest of the day; Pop wasn’t sure he would ever want to try it again after all of that. But he bravely went right back at it, a real trooper. All in all, it was a wonderful, memory building kind of adventure. I think they may even try it again someday, maybe on another perfect summer afternoon.

Fishing always reminds me of Jesus and his disciples, at least four of whom were professional fishermen. Some scholars think up to seven of the twelve may have been (cf. John 21:1-3). I’ve often wondered why Jesus particularly chose fishermen.

Thinking about it, it occurs to me that fishermen were (and are) a special breed of men. They had to learn, because of the very nature of their profession, many challenging skills to help them accomplish tasks under extremely difficult circumstances: stormy winds, raging waves, pelting rain, sleet, snow, drought, cold, fog, scorching sun, and even scarcity of fish.

These weather-battered, ordinary guys often worked all night and then had to wash and repair their nets, unload and sort the catch, clean the boat, upkeep the sails and other equipment as necessary---a huge undertaking. They did not quit when things were tough. They could ill afford to be lazy or distracted. They had to be courageous and bold, strong and resilient, patient and determined, energetic and motivated. Using nets to trawl the Sea of Galilee, these men had learned about hard work, cooperation, staying busy, getting along, and depending on one another. They had also learned to live by faith. What valuable qualities and habits they had developed! How useful for serving the Master!

No wonder Jesus called fishermen to Himself. He needed disciples He could train for the difficult work of the kingdom, work that would require courage, strength, focus, cooperation, hard work, commitment, and patience.    

“Follow me,” He commanded with authority, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) And they came. At once.

They left everything and, along with the others Jesus had chosen, these twelve lived with Him, learned from Him, and loved Him during the three years of His earthly ministry. They came to believe He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They began to vaguely understand His mission: “…the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) As eye witnesses to His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, this rag-tag bunch would become the prime conveyers of God’s truth and His purposes, His plan to rescue mankind and form a people for Himself.

They had become fishers for men’s souls, just as Jesus said. They would spread the Gospel, the good news of salvation, the word of truth offered to humanity by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Theirs was a message not only of eternal life but one that encompassed the total plan of God to redeem people of every nation, tribe, and language from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.

In the following years, their message would turn the world upside down.

Ordinary men doing extraordinary things.

Ordinary men (and women) like us.

Okay. Maybe a call to become a fisher of men seems irrelevant, strange, or even archaic to us, but in that day, in that setting, to those men it was perfect. Even though they didn’t fully understand what they were signing up to do, they followed the Master.

I think that’s what He is asking of us even today...to follow Him. And even if we aren’t brave or strong or patient or full of faith, He can make us fishers of men as well. Peter didn’t think he was up to the task either, but Jesus used him powerfully to touch his world, and I believe God can use you and me to touch ours. He equips those He calls. He has created us with individual gifts, talents, personalities, experiences, and strengths to do good works that He planned long ago for us do. He has given us the Holy Spirit to live and work in us. He promises to be with us wherever He asks us to go. And there are still a lot of spiritually hungry “fish” out there that need to be “caught.”

Because they are following Jesus, LFA’s teens and young adults are out there “fishing” at Camp Grace this summer in Vineland, Bridgeton, Newfield and Millville. I’m so happy Jude and Law are part of that worthy effort. These evenings, they aren’t looking for silvery bass; they are fishers of men...and boys and girls.  Incredible. Thank you, Father.

Shouldn’t we all be “fishing for people?” With Jesus as Captain of our ship, we may end up with a net full! And you probably won’t have to kiss a one on the lips.  Asher didn’t.

Well, I’ve heard it said every day is a good day for fishing. 

I think Jesus would agree with that. I hope you do too.  

--Eileen Hill

How Far Do We Go To Help Others?

Not long ago I was faced with the anxiety and pain involved in helping other fellow friends. A few things started to emerge as I got deeper into their situations. At times I felt anxious and at other moments I felt like there was a knot inside my stomach. It took me a few days to emerge back into a place where I could breathe oxygen, relax and pay attention to other aspects of my own life. I guess for a moment a few dynamics came together at the same time:

  • I wanted to help.
  • I understood my calling to include helping others, so I dove into it.
  • The nature of the crisis others were experiencing was pressing—as it is usually with crisis.
  • I was doing a lot on my own to help bridge the necessary resources to help these friends.
  • Little by little my actions created less space for these friends to experience appropriate consequences and take responsibility for things they were to be responsible for.
  • I did not involve others in order to diversify the help that could be offered more efficiently.
  • I ended up running on “me” rather than God, and I felt drowned with little space to breathe. 

Can you relate to this? Have you ever been in a situation with a friend, relative or brother in Christ where you just drowned in the process of trying to help? Times like this eventually feel more like a burden than the light and easy yoke Jesus promised we would experience with Him, in Matthew 11:30. 

Perhaps we should go back to the passage where Jesus spoke those words and see what I was missing and what you may be missing. Here is what He said in verses 28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Whether you are already “heavy laden” or nearing that place, it is clear that we are to carry something. The question is, what are we carrying? Whose yoke are we carrying? The one our friends handed to us? One that is imposed on us? The one I believe I should pick up? Or the one Jesus assigns to each one of us in a given situation? It is obvious from Jesus’ words that what characterizes the experience of carrying His yoke is a form of “rest,” not a burden. What are you experiencing as you carry other peoples’ burdens? And, why do you think that is the case? 

Another reality worth observing is that there are a couple of attitudes Jesus instructs us to imitate as we carry the yoke He gives to us. I believe these two attitudes are required in order to carry the light yoke He offers to us. Gentleness and lowliness of heart (humility). I find it interesting that gentleness and humility go out the door the moment I take charge of a situation.  Yet Jesus’ way of serving and loving others was predominantly shaped and characterized by gentleness and humility. Gentleness and humility have a way of helping us identify both our personal limitations and God’s unlimited power and provision. 

So our challenge is to make sure we carry the yoke Jesus assigns to us—this defines how far we go to help others—and to learn from Him the attitudes that keeps us in the right place for the good of others and our own.

--Diego Cuartas

Chinese Buffet Foodie

I love buffets! The way I see it is this: why should I pay the same price for one dinner when I could get a whole bunch of different kinds of food for the same amount? People who know me well are very aware of my love for Chinese food! Man, I love some Chinese food!! Double exclamation marks, did you notice that? If so, you are very observant.  Now, less I digress.  I am always getting Chinese food buffet recommendations from folks. My best friend Jessica and I would load up in the car, head over to Glassboro, NJ and eat at Peking Buffet. They have some good food in that place. Great sushi bar, a chef that cooks whatever food creation you give him on the grill. My usual would be some lo mien noodles, broccoli, water chestnuts, chives, chicken, beef and some shrimp, pineapple wedges, a few green peppers, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, soy sauce, ginger sauce, teriyaki sauce, a dab of fresh garlic and a few hots. I would hand the little white plate with the mound of delicacies on top and say thank you. Then it would be time to toddle around the buffet while I waited. Just thinking about it made, and IS, making my mouth water, even as I am writing this blog! LOL. Soon, I would see him using both of his cleavers to lift the sizzling hot food onto my little white plate and place it on the counter. Time for me to grab that plate and eat!

Two days ago, I was sitting in my recliner chair on my day off.  It was lunchtime, so the thoughts of what I was going to eat was going through my brain. Now, I must tell you, my best friend Jessica is an amazing cook. She loves to experiment with food, introduce me to new foods and make things without any recipe at all, and they usually come out wonderful. I think in the 25 years I’ve known her, maybe a couple things were inedible. Me, on the other hand, not so much! I am not creative with food. I don’t enjoy cooking or going to the grocery store with meals for the week in mind. It seems that my giftings are not in that department! I tend to lean towards making something and eating it for several days until it is gone. That may sound weird, but it is the truth! I love to be creative in the counseling room, on the keyboard and in the yard building things. I get very excited in those areas. My brain fires away!

The point of this blog is not about my love for Chinese food, nor Jessica’s cooking creativity versus my lack thereof. What happened in that recliner chair was this: as I thought about lunch, literally, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart that I tend to do the same thing with the Word of God, which is the Bible. It may sound odd, but there are many references in the Bible about “eating” the Word of God. Just as we need to “eat” physical food and “drink” water to remain healthy, we also need to “eat” by reading the Word of God each day and “drink” the life that comes from it through Jesus Christ. Here are some actual verses I found that talk about “eating the Word of God”:

  • “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
  • Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4). This is why Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:35).
  • The past grace of his death and resurrection guarantee a never-ending stream of hope-giving future grace for us extending into eternity. To eat these promises is to eat this living bread and live forever (John 6:51).
  • And Jesus has made the Bible the storehouse of nourishing, living soul food for his saints. It is stocked full of promises, and he invites us to come eat our fill for free (Isaiah 55:1)!

In much the same way that I make something then eat it for days, I have followed some commands of God, such as this one:

Psalm 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

I have done that with a bunch of Scriptures by reading them in the Bible and memorizing them. After memorizing them, I have to command my soul to BELIEVE them. Scriptures that pertain to fear, power, love, trusting God, strength. So when I am faced with a circumstance, a battle, whatever the case may be, when I desperately need God to show up, the Scripture flies right up into my brain automatically so I can lean into God, my good Father, to help me. I am not then facing the issue myself, His Word comes to defend me so I also don’t take matters into my own hands and sin against Him by doing or saying a wrong thing.

But, I have a tenancy to be “living off of the same food” for days, weeks and years! In other words, I have been lazy in memorizing more Scripture to add new food to my diet! I am going to take God’s correction from the Holy Spirit and begin to expand my Spiritual diet, new foods in the form of Scripture to be hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Him.

I would like to encourage any of you reading this blog, if you are interested, check out those verses I have included above. Examine your own patterns of hiding His Word in your own heart. What’s the last verse you memorized? 

Blessings Friends!

--Lois Robinson