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Should You Be Concerned About the Music Your Child Listens To?
Most of us who are parents today listened to music in our youth that would have shocked our parents and that we’d be appalled to have our children listen to today. This may leave us conflicted and feeling a bit hypocritical about trying to control what music our own kids are allowed to enjoy. Ultimately, every parent has to decide where they draw the line on pop music. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking the decision is inconsequential. For better or for worse, your child’s worldview will be shaped by the music they listen to.
How then should we address the role of music in our child’s life? By focusing on a simple, broad principle: focus on the lyrics. By teaching them how to listen to and evaluate the content of lyrics we can help them listen with discernment. Here’s five guidelines to follow that will help you influence what your child is hearing:
Control the Music That Comes Into Your Home
As a parent, you wouldn’t allow your kids to watch an X-rated movie. Similarly, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye—or deaf ear—to the descriptions of pornographic acts set to the beat. We can’t control the music that gets made or even control what our child hears when they are out of the house. But we have the power and authority to control what comes into our homes.
Do Your Homework
For almost any song your child wants to listen to, you can go online and hear a sample and read the lyrics for free. Spend the time researching the artists and songs that capture their imagination so you can have an informed discussion about their musical preferences.
Don’t Settle for Shallow Justifications
Your child wants to fit in with the rest of culture, so be ready to hear every excuse imaginable for why they should listen to “worldly” music:
“I just like the beat, I’m not even paying attention to the lyrics.”
“But the singer is a Christian. They even thanked God at the Grammys.”
“Sure it contains bad language, but I hear worse from the kids at school.”
Don’t concede to such shallow justifications. Giving in to them won’t help your child become a more God-honoring believer.
Worry About Their Present Condition, Not Their Future Rebellion
When it comes to parenting, the most misused Bible verse is likely Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Too many parents treat this verse as if it’s a promise attached to a command, rather than what it is—a proverb (i.e., a general truth).
But the verse is a proverb because it is generally true. If we start children off on the way they should go by limiting their exposure to unedifying music, they are indeed more likely to avoid such music when they are older. Too often, though, we are overly focused on future, potential rebellion. We worry that if we’re too strict in controlling what they listen to that when they get older they’ll rebel and listen to the music we forbid. Perhaps they will. But so what? Why should we allow their worldview to be corrupted now—at an age when they are most impressionable—simply to avoid their listening to the same kind of music when they are older.
Listen to Music Together
This can be the hardest advice to follow, especially if you do not share your teen’s musical taste. But listening to music together can help clarify for your child why certain songs are problematic. Remind them that if they are ashamed to listen to racy or violent music in your presence they should be even more concerned about listening to it in the presence of our holy God.
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How You Can Start Living Your Best Life Now
Posted on Jan 15, 2019 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Meghann Bowman
As we begin a new year, often times we are excited by the promise of new. New beginnings, new seasons, new expectations.
We make resolutions to live our healthiest lifestyle, find that job we’re passionate about, finally take control of our finances, or improve our relationships. And when we resolve to do a new thing, our human nature is to really want to succeed. After all, Proverbs 13:12 says that “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Maybe your resolution starts with “this is the year for (fill in the blank).”
My words were “this is the year we will start a family.”
But here’s the thing—our desires and expectations are not always God’s plan for our life. My family didn’t come for five years after I started “trying” for a baby. While I was determined to “fix it” on my own, there was no amount of will or resolve that would have brought me a baby. I had to wait for God’s perfect timing, which is hard and painful.
In the midst of this season, I had all kinds of thoughts—I am not worthy, I am not doing the right things, I am not trying hard enough…and on and on. My desire was not fulfilled. My expectations were not met.
What do we do in these situations? My biggest takeaway from my five-year infertility journey is we cannot wait for our desires to be fulfilled and our expectations to be met in order to live our best lives.
We must not live without joy or gratitude until our expectations become our reality.
Today, I have the family I always wanted but that isn’t what gives me purpose and fulfillment. While the tiny people who rule my house are gifts from God, I already had everything before they arrived.
I am a child of the King, who alone gives me purpose and fulfillment.
And you are too—no matter what expectations are unmet and what desires are unfulfilled.
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Where You Can Turn When Your Relationship Feels Stormy
As a child, I flew often. My father was an airline captain for a major commercial airline, so flying was a normal mode of transportation. As you might imagine, with a lot of flying comes an increased opportunity for turbulence to occur. And I admit, despite countless hours in the air, I never got used to the turbulence.
But one thing would set me at ease no matter how bumpy a flight got: my father’s words.
If my dad was in the cockpit and knew that we were coming up on some turbulence, he would make his way back to where I was, tell me to buckle up, and then say, “It’s just like a roller coaster, Heather. It makes it more fun this way.” He’d pause and then throw in a bit more for good measure: “I sure do get bored if it’s just a smooth flight. How about you?”
I would always force a smile back at him and try to look brave as my knuckles started to turn white grasping both sides of my seat. But then, after he left to go back to the cockpit and fly, I’d rehearse my father’s words over and over in my mind: “It’s just like a roller coaster, Heather. It makes it more fun this way.” And I’d remember the calm in his voice and on his face. A few minutes into the turbulence, and I’d have peace. Why? Because my dad had peace, and he was the one who was flying.
Now, I’ll admit, when I fly today as an adult and we face some turbulence, I often hear his words but also realize he’s not the one flying. So my heart starts racing, and my knuckles turn white as I squeeze my husband’s hand or leg a bit too hard. But whenever my dad was the pilot, I flew in perfect peace regardless of the bumps. This is because I trusted him, no matter what.
God also gives us a promise of peace when we choose to trust Him rather than fear the circumstances that cause bumps in our marriage. Isaiah 26:3 tells us clearly, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
Marriage comes with some turbulence, no doubt. It’s part of the process of pairing up two sinful human beings. Just like bumpy air is bound to happen if you fly long enough. God never promised us that the bumps would go away, just like my dad never promised me a smooth flight. But what God does do is give us the assurance that He is the One in control— He’s the Captain of our lives, and He knows how to get us where we need to go.
In hindsight, now that I’m grown, I don’t think my dad actually got bored on smooth flights or thought that turbulence was more fun. But when I was a child, he framed my experience in such a way that it gave me the opportunity to choose peace.
Jesus has done something similar for us, painting life’s difficulties in a way we can understand when He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Truth is, He has overcome the world as a warrior battling fiercely against an enemy bent on our destruction. But Jesus doesn’t go into those graphic details in this verse, just like my dad didn’t tell me how bad the storms he was about to navigate both through and around actually were. Rather, Jesus simply reminds us to take heart by trusting Him. He reminds us that He has overcome. He smiles. Then He returns to battle on our behalf.
Peace has been offered to us if we simply choose to believe Him and receive it.
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How You Can Worship God Through Your Pain
“Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.” Job 1:20
Are you struggling to understand? Are you stuck in a state of anger? Have you lost something or someone precious? It may be the loss of your child’s health or even the death of a child. A spouse may have gone to heaven or left you for someone else. Or your children are angry because they do not understand why you are divorcing. You are angry and hurt at your loss.
Is your heart hemorrhaging with pain and animosity? Everything you once held dear, that you took for granted, now is gone. You have no spouse, no children, no home, no job, and no money. This is a barren and lonely time for you; one is a lonely number. Where are you to turn when the bottom falls out? God seems detached, and heaven seems a trillion miles away.
“David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” (2 Samuel 12:20)
Worship the Lord in your pain and loss. Focusing on the greatness, holiness, and wonder of God is healing. Praise Him with your voice and praise Him with your heart and mind. Borrow or purchase recordings of worship songs tolift you out of the depths of despair into the loving presenceof Jesus. Sing softly to the Lord “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”and “Jesus Loves Me.”
God extends His grace and mercy to forgive surly, stupid mistakes. You can give up on yourself only if He does, yet He will never give up on you. Forgive yourself because He has forgiven you. Invite back and serve those you have hurt, and watch God perform relational, emotional, and spiritual healing. Most of all, in the middle of your horrific loss, make the worship of Christ the centerpiece of your life. Worship fuels faith, heals hearts, and calms fears.
He is waiting to receive your worship and praise—a sweet fragrance to Him, holy and acceptable. Your praise to God will become a pillow of rest to your head, and your focus on the Lord’s majesty through worship will remind you of your utter dependence on Him. Worship God in the middle of your pain and worry, and then receive by faith the wonders of His grace!
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6)
Pause for a moment and ask yourself, am I engaged in regular personal and corporate worship of my Lord Jesus?
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What does “God is love” truly mean?
Can I be honest? I’ve always been a bit nervous about answering that dreaded question: “Mommy, where do babies come from?” I’m nervous that I might stumble my way through a vague-at-best response that either leaves my daughter completely confused or, perhaps worse, decidedly more inquisitive. I don’t have the answer to an age-appropriate conversation with your child. In fact, I’d love to hear your advice in the comment section. What I can share is something that I think any child (and adult) should delight to know: God is love. What does that have to do with “where babies come from”? Well, everything.
You see, when the apostle John summed up the nature of God in his statement, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) he hit on something that has everything to do with creation and salvation (re-creation). It’s so true and so important that we understand God’s love for us in sending His Son Jesus to pay for our sins and bring us into right relationship with God (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Pet. 3:18). But have you ever thought about God’s love in the act of creation? What about God’s love prior to creation?
If God is love and God is eternal, then God is, will always be, and has always been love. Even before He spoke the universe into existence, God existed in a perfectly unified community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. When praying to the Father, Jesus (God the Son) said, “Father…you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). This means that even before God created the heavens and the earth, He delighted in Himself! Love preceded creation. Do you see where I’m going with this?
God, who has always been perfectly happy within Himself, decided to create the heavens and the earth as an overflow of that eternal love. God made human beings as the crown-jewel of His creation—His image bearers who would be enveloped into that sweet fellowship of love between Father, Son, and Spirit (Gen. 1:26-27; John 17:13, 23-24). Love caused creation. Does that sound familiar? Picture a loving married couple who find so much joy in each other. They decide to come together in hopes of having a child who they lovingly welcome into their family. This is a picture of love overflowing to make life.
What’s my point? No matter your family of origin, no matter your social status, no matter your upbringing, you were created and are sustained by a personal God who is defined by love. That everlasting love became unbelievably clear on the day that God crushed His own Son so that we could become God’s children (Isa. 53:10; John 1:12).
From eternity past, to creation, to the cross, to consummation on the New Earth, God is love. Knowing that “God is love” and how “God is love” changes everything. Our inquisitive children desperately need to know this, and so do we.
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What’s in Your Prayer Closet? Making Room for God in the New Year
Posted on Dec 20, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Hope Lyda
New beginnings offer us much grace. That’s why I’m a better nester as a new year awakens than I am a spring cleaner. It’s not about resolutions. Those feel judgy-wudgy. It’s about hope. I long to prepare physical and spiritual places where I can fall, lean, dream, crumble, and sigh.
But there’s so much stuff.
It occupies my home like an invited houseguest turned squatter who won’t chip in for groceries yet deposits dirty socks everywhere. I can’t blame anyone else. I invited this stuff into my life. It’s my doing. To keep it from being my undoing, a friend gifted me a day of tidying to regain territory. Another friend and I started a pinky promise to tackle small chores over weekends. We text each other “pinky power” encouragements and have one rule: no judgement if Friday unfolds into Monday like a unkempt sleeper sofa, showing no progress (only evidence of cheese puff binges).
As burdening as this physical chaos can be, the messier zone I need to address in the new year is my prayer closet. Not a nook in my house…though I’d love to talk bookshelves and candles.
I’m talking about the ultimate prayer closet—our hearts. The space where we meet God in stillness and openness, ready to be filled with his love. That is, when there’s room.
It is this heart that is the place of prayer…Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart; that is, at that point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one. There God's Spirit dwells and there the great encounter takes place. There heart speaks to heart. (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)
I want to clear a space for this kind of encounter with the Lord. How about you? Here is what I’ll be lugging to the spiritual curb in the next days. Are any of these familiar?
____ Regrets carved on stones, stacked but ready to tumble
____ Broken dreams I’ve saved and shoved to dark corners in case I need them for parts
____ Resentments crammed into accordion files so full I can’t find any original receipts
____ Stacks of score cards from years of comparing myself to others
____ Complaints I made so often they now echo in the prayer chambers of my heart
(And to think I invited all those things to take up space in my heart…for years!)
What’s in your prayer closet?
If it looks like mine, there’s good news, actually the good news. Jesus will help us. You know the words, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Just as friends did for my physical spaces, Jesus will gently, gladly help us remove obstacles from our hearts. He does this because he is merciful God. (And, I suspect he’s tired of sitting on lawn bags stuffed with life debris.)
He won’t judge our mess. And when he tenderly holds up a painful memento, he’ll have a tissue ready before our lips quiver. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). There’s no shame here. Only room for more that is sacred. More that is life-giving. More that is of God’s heart for us.
- What needs to be removed from your personal prayer closet?
- How might you start a new day, a new year, a new outlook with a heart open for holy conversations?
Need some ideas to get you started?
5 Ways to Start Your Year with Prayer
1. Grab a favorite book of prayers to carry and use anytime.
2. Select a verse that will be your lead-in prayer to break the ice.
3. Let a journal choose you (they do that, you know). Jot down prayers, praises, hopes.
4. Walk, draw, doodle, or sing a prayer. Express that heart!
5. Plan a regular time to meet God in your prayer closet. First thing in the morning or right after dinner have potential! (Suggestion: spend the first 5 minutes clearing the clutter together and then dive into what’s new.)
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Why Training for God’s Best Always Brings Success
Faster. The coach’s words screamed through Jason’s head. Faster on each turn. Seventy laps. No rest.
He and the five other speed skaters looked like a long train as they raced around the 400-meter ice rink. Jason was tailing the lead skater for now, but on the next turn, the leader would pull off and drop to the rear of the pack. Then it would be Jason’s turn to pace as hard as he could with the other guys following him.
Every muscle was surging with pain, and his heart was pounding so hard it hurt to breathe. How’d I ever get nicknamed Flash?
“GO! GO! GO!” barked the coach as Jason took the lead.
Jason ignored the stinging razors that tore through his quads and focused on his goal—competing in the Winter Olympics.
Building endurance and pushing his body to its limit six to eight hours a day, six days a week, was the only way to get there.
“But if I didn’t believe it was God’s will for my life,” he told other racers, “I wouldn’t spend another second on the ice.”
Was it God’s will for Jason to make the US Olympic team?
I asked myself that question when I first heard his story. (Jason is from my hometown, Colorado Springs, but he trained in Milwaukee.)
Jason is committed to his sport, and he’s a talented speed skater, so it’s hard to imagine him not making the team. But still, the competition is tough. A lot of guys try out for a limited number of spaces, so the thought crossed my mind, What if it just doesn’t work out? How will he handle the rejection? I mean, I didn’t make my high school basketball team—even after playing the sport my entire young life. That really hurt. But an Olympic dream? How do you get over that?
I soon got my answer, and it made my heart skip a beat. “No,” he told my dad, “I didn’t make the team.”
The next words out of his mouth blew my mind: “Speed skating in the Olympics has always been my dream, but now I can look forward to whatever else God has planned for me. I know that everything that happens to me has a purpose. God’s purpose. And His purpose is always best.”
Athletes like Jason have anchored their lives to the right goal—seeking God’s will, not just their own dreams. They set goals, plan ahead, train, and set off in one direction, knowing that God may take them down a completely different track. And not only do they discipline their bodies for competition, but they train their spiritual lives too—reading the Bible, praying, and seeking God’s guidance. That’s why they’re not devastated when hard times hit or if they don’t get what they’d hoped for. They know that God is for them, and His ways are best.
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How Marriage Exposes You In All The Best Ways
Posted on Dec 13, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Jonathan Pitts
If you had asked me if I was ready to walk the aisle before our wedding day, I would have quickly and confidently told you yes. With absolutely no reserve, I would have shared all the ways God had prepared me for marriage. In my own mind, I was an ideal candidate for a husband.
I could have checked a lot of boxes that would put me in the “righteous boy” category. From the outside, I looked the part. I was respectful. I knew the right things to say to anyone asking. I had little on my resume that would give anyone pause. I was a “good Christian.” I sang in the gospel choir. I was academically gifted. I was a hard worker, and it showed in most every area of my life.
I excelled. That was my aim and highest goal. And if I’m being honest, I have to say that the fear of being exposed as something other than “most likely to succeed” was my greatest fear.
I suppose this fear came from growing up a mixed-race boy, never feeling like I fit in. At least that’s what I would share if I was sitting down with a counselor asking me the root issues in my life.
So instead of trying to fit in, I pushed myself to the top, daily. It didn’t matter whether it was sports, work, or extracurricular activities. I wanted to be pictured at the top of the class. I didn’t want to be seen or remembered as anything less than the best.
Frankly, it worked with most people and in most scenarios. That’s because most people are looking at your life as a snapshot. They never spend enough time with you to see the real you. They see only what you allow them to see.
Keeping up your image is easy to do in a snapshot, because you have to hold your pose for only a split second. Many of us learn to hold the pose at just the right time. Once the picture is taken, we go back to our normal selves.
Then a beautiful young woman with much less of an image issue began to expose the rest of the film in my life.
If you walked into our home, you’d see a beautifully framed, black-and-white wedding photo on our fireplace mantel. It shows Wynter leaning into my chest, her head snuggled into my neck, her left arm wrapped around my side, and her right arm grabbing my body just under my shoulders. My chin is pressed into her nose, and though her eyes aren’t visible, you can see joy in her entire face. I’m looking down at her with awe and wonder, with one arm clasping her left arm and the other placed gently on her back.
It’s a beautiful picture. It’s a very good snapshot, but a snapshot nonetheless.
The thing is, marriage is not a snapshot. It’s a live shot that lets you see, along with the final image, the milliseconds of movements made just before the shutter blinks.
Although for most of our youthful lives we tend to skip from one snapshot to another—from one relationship to another, never allowing someone to see us for who we really are—marriage is the beginning of one live shot after another. Yes, you will have opportunities to capture a snapshot, and those moments are still important. But marriage is living and active. It opens the door for full exposure and vulnerability that never quite existed in your life before.
To many of us, the thought of this kind of exposure feels threatening and awkward, a barrier to our ability to live from one snapshot to the next. It’s outside of our control, forcing us to reconsider everything we thought about life and relationships.
But being exposed is a good thing. By ourselves we can make only the changes in our lives we’re comfortable with. We get to hold on to some of the comfortable things that have defined us. Marriage, at its best, however, is where we can be exposed, but without fear of judgment and condemnation.
In a godly marriage, we are moving toward full exposure with maximum grace from each other and from the Lord. As we do, our live shots expose context and character, filling our lives with so much more goodness than a snapshot could ever express.
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Are You an Avid Indoorsman?
Posted on Dec 11, 2018 Topic : Men's Christian Living
The Avid Indoorsman is a rare breed, and locating him out "in the mild" is something few people successfully accomplish. This is mainly because he keeps his doors locked, especially at night. But if one can ever gain access through his hinged gateway to the indoors (i.e., the door), behind it awaits a master of his domain whose life choices and life skills evoke deep insight and admiration. The Avid Indoorsman makes the indoors; it does not make him.
General Characteristics of an Avid Indoorsman
- Prefers a temperate climate and thus lives with a daily sense of gratitude for the modern marvels of HVAC systems and thermostats, by which he can actually dictate what the climate will be.
- Thrives on technology and is generally more adept at understanding it than the average person.
- Values privacy from the outside world by creating an inside world, wherein self, friends, and family can safely gather.
- Is often labeled an introvert, but this can be a misunderstood oversimplification reflective of his habitat more than his habits.
- Thinks frog gigging is merely an outdoor concert in the rain rather than what it actually is. Regardless, he would prefer to do neither.
- Contrary to popular belief, he is not afraid of roughing it and may even occasionally go camping with his family or friends, but as a master of Indoorsmanship, he will recreate many of the comforts and advantages of the indoors in whatever outdoor space he finds himself.
- Possesses an effortless, almost instinctive ability to seamlessly assimilate the latest app (and whatever service it provides) into his daily life, which means with a few clicks on his phone or even a few voice commands, he can order and have delivered to his doorstep anything he wants or needs in life, often having it arrive on the same day.
- Lives his life according to a moral compass, unlike his Outdoorsman counterpart, who is more likely to live his life following an actual compass.
- Technological devices and software seem to know and respect him in a way they don’t interact with lesser Indoorsmen, resulting in an absence of errors, phone freezes, program crashes, and all the other general malfunctions of technology that tend to plague everyone else in society.
- Is an early adopter—if not a beta tester—for new devices and software, which includes an enthusiasm for the latest updates that cause problems for all other device owners and users. Because of this, the Avid Indoorsman is virtually immune to viruses and all other tech disasters.
- Is the hub of knowledge for all his friends, family, and often even strangers for issues with their technology, which can cause him to sometimes feel overwhelmed and compel him to screen his phone calls.
- Sometimes experiences phantom phone vibrations even when he does not have his phone on him at all.
Are you ready to become the Avid Indoorsman you never knew you were dreaming of becoming?
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Parenting Advice You May Never Have Heard Before
Now that my sons are in their thirties, mostly well-adjusted, and pursuing their life callings, I’ve had the chance to rethink my parenting philosophy. Although I have limited data points, as my oldest with his political science PhD would be quick to remind me, I have developed three unconventional parenting axioms that I now swear by. They are:
Under parent your oldest, over parent your youngest
Any well-intentioned new parent will be armed with the latest parenting wisdom when their chosen one is born. They will climb any mountain, swim any sea, and pay for any lesson to give them a leg up on their future. It will take extraordinary amounts of time, emotional energy, and cash to get them prepped, trained, and admitted to their rightful destiny.
By the time the last one comes along, though, we’re wiser, tireder (not grammatically correct, but if you’ve been there, you know it’s accurate), and perhaps a bit poorer. Thus, the baby ends up with fewer boundaries which translates into less accountability and ultimately more freedom. All of which can be a good thing, but many times not. And “when not” it can get expensive, just sayin’. To sum up, my oldest would have benefitted from less parenting and more freedom and my youngest from more parenting and less freedom.
One caveat with this axiom is that when your first born arrives, you have no comparative data by which to discern the intensity level of your parenting efforts. My only advice—whatever your current level is, dial it back.
Lower your expectations
I didn’t say “no” expectations. I said lower the expectations you have. The overwhelming odds are that your kid/s will not be Division 1 athletes, valedictorians, or admitted to an Ivy League school. It is also highly likely that they will choose friends that aren’t good for them, experiment with drugs and alcohol, and have sex before they are married. Whenever we rigidly hold them to these extraordinary expectations, we set them, and our relationships with them, up for a lot of disappointment, frustration, and failure.
You can keep your inflexible expectations or your relationships with your kids. But you can’t keep both. Thankfully, I opted for the latter.
If I had known my sons were going to grow up and move halfway across the country, I wouldn’t have been so obsessed with them when they were younger. We get preoccupied with our children’s lives to the point we forget about our own—and we and our marriages suffer. Eventually, our kids suffer too. Our insufferable hovering robs them of the life experiences that prepare them for their best futures. Just remember, those sweet bundles of joy will one day have a life of their own, on their own. Don’t forget to take care of yours in the meantime.
When my boys were young I didn’t have these axioms to work with. Perhaps they will work for you.
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When You Pray and Plan You Can Reach Your Financial Goals
Posted on Dec 04, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Deborah Smith Pegues
In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus taught the proper mind-set regarding the daily needs of life, such as food and clothing. He concludes His message in verse 34: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (NLT).
Some Christians find this confusing and often wonder, “Is there a way to reconcile planning and the Lord’s command to live by faith?”
Yes, most certainly.
When Jesus said, “Don’t worry,” He didn’t mean “don’t think about” or “don’t plan”—He simply meant “don’t worry.” The idea is not to be anxious about things you can’t control because God has promised to take care of our daily needs. But that doesn’t negate the need for planning.
For our part, we should do everything within our power and then recognize what is outside our control and leave it up to God. Pray and plan, but don’t fret. God “will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).
Consider the story of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. They went out to meet the bridegroom, all carrying lamps. Five virgins had the foresight to bring along extra oil and five did not. Eventually they all fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom.
At midnight, when the message rang out that he was nearby, the five “foolish” virgins found that their lamps were extinguishing, so they asked the “wise” virgins to share their oil. The wise virgins refused. “But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves,’” (Matthew 25:9 NKJV). So the foolish virgins left to go purchase some, but by the time they returned, the bridegroom had arrived and taken the wise virgins in with him to the wedding banquet.
When the foolish virgins tried to enter, it was too late. The door was shut tight. They could have easily avoided this problem. Lack of funds was not the issue—as evidenced by the fact that they went to buy more. So even though they had money to buy extra oil, they didn’t plan ahead to ensure their oil didn’t run out.
Setting goals is one of the most empowering acts you can perform to secure your financial future. You may have heard the saying, “Aim at nothing and you will hit it every time.” Setting goals simply means knowing where you want to go and having a plan for getting there. And be sure to assess the adequacy of your resources so you don’t end up like the foolish virgins. It is prudent to count the cost to ensure you have the resources and motivation necessary; otherwise, failure is imminent.
Three tips to get started planning your financial future:
Seek Counsel: There’s no shame in getting help. As Proverbs 12:15 reminds us, “The wise listen to advice.” No matter what your financial situation currently is, credit counseling agencies can provide help in a variety of ways.
Find Creative Solutions: Perhaps you don’t yet have the resources you need or you face a unique set of circumstances, whatever the problem, creative solutions can help provide the motivation to get started and the momentum to keep going.
Stay Balanced: Do not go to the extreme in trying to reach your financial goals. You don’t have to give up everything, so long as you prioritize.
You can do this. Embrace your goal with enthusiasm and good intentions, and before you know it you will arrive at your desired financial destination empowered and with great experience and wisdom to share with others.
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Do You Know That God Wants You to Laugh?
I’m always a little leery of being told what it is God wants me to do. Especially when it’s something like, “finish your peas” (when I was young) or, “donate to the new pipe organ upgrade” (when I was older.) Did the Creator of the universe really have a vested interest in my green vegetable intake, or whether our organ could be heard two churches over? Hard to say.
But this one, the God wants you to laugh suggestion, is something I’m so sure of that I’ve used capital letters and “bolded” it, twice.
The way I know is this:
It’s all over Proverbs. For example, A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)
Think about people you know who never laugh. Don’t they look like maybe their bones are drying up? It’s literally good for you to laugh, and don’t forget about calcium, either.
It’s written into the schedule. ...time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance... Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NIV)
Weeping and mourning have their place, and it’s usually pretty clear when they’re called for, but we’re less likely to laugh and dance. Of course, people who have witnessed me dancing are also people who laugh. That biblical pairing is no coincidence.
Even a minor prophet talks about being happy! ...yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:18 (NIV)
But Habakkuk wasn’t all that minor, really. He shows up in Romans and Galatians and Hebrews and was even on a Dead Sea Scroll!
And those are just three of lots and lots of references. In fact, from talking donkeys to giggling children in the marketplace, the Bible is full of joy, happiness, and laughter! Shouldn’t God’s people be too? Let’s be people with wet bones! (Which I assume is the opposite of dry, but that might not be medically accurate.)
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The Benefits of an Armory Full of Grace
God wants to fill the armory of your heart with grace so you’ll always have what you need for every situation. Rather than drawing from old, defunct, and dangerous weapons, when you go to the grace supply you’ll find strength, comfort, joy, love, hope, and everything else necessary to help you in your time of need.
Annie Johnson Flint, the woman who wrote the poem “He Giveth More Grace,” was herself a grace story. She was born in Vineland, New Jersey, to Eldon and Jean Johnson in 1866. Three years later her mother died while giving birth. At the same time, Annie’s father was struck down with an incurable disease and had to give up custody of his little girls. Annie and her sister were adopted and taken into the Flint home. There they grew and matured in the atmosphere of God’s grace, love, and Word. After Annie graduated from high school, she trained to become a schoolteacher. While she was still a teacher, her adoptive parents both died.
During her third year of teaching, she began to suffer from crippling pain. She was diagnosed with early onset arthritis, forced to resign her career, and became an invalid at a young age. Every day required the provision of God’s grace to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. Yet drawing from the armory of God’s grace, she wrote poems and encouraging letters and published inspirational booklets. Her life of grace ministered grace to many others, and her poems were her personal testimony of drawing from the riches of God’s grace. Many others are still ministered to by the supplies that came from the armory of her grace-filled heart.
I’m sure Annie Johnson Flint had a constant battle to keep the armory of her heart free of the toxins of resentment, bitterness, and frustration. Yet her battle was rewarded with reserves of grace that upheld her and ministered to others.
Do you desire an armory of grace in your heart? When frustration, hard circumstances, and difficulties come knocking at your door, don’t you long to meet them with the resources of God’s grace?
It will take a battle. It will mean taking inventory of all that resides in your present armory. It will mean allowing God to clean it out. Then it will take a cooperative effort with Him to refill your heart with His grace through prayer, His Word, and fellowship with other believers.
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A Thankful Thanksgiving
Do you know what you’ll say when it’s your turn to answer the inevitable question, “What are you thankful for this year?”
If you’re like me, you’ll probably say something like “friends, family, food…and of course, Jesus.” (And then you’ll wish you’d said Jesus first because that’s what you meant, right? Semi-religious holidays can be so hard!)
Several years ago, when my life had become narrow and hemmed in with caregiving and work and church responsibilities, I could hardly say even that. I knew I needed to expand my understanding of thankfulness.
The private, ongoing practice of thankfulness invigorates.
It started with a minute. I often bike around a beautiful river path. I began to stop on a pedestrian bridge for exactly one minute, quiet my demanding thoughts, and just be thankful to the Lord—not for anything in particular but for everything in general. I did this every time I rode that route. And that simple, set-aside minute changed my focus, revitalized my spirit, and created room for deeper responses to God. I became more aware of each present moment and eager to live that moment fully.
Could you find a minute a day to practice thankfulness?
Thankfulness opens new horizons.
During an extraordinarily rough patch, I happened upon this quote:
What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?
A copy of this saying sat in my office for several years and now lives, wrinkled and warped, on my bathroom counter. I suppose it could sound like a “be grateful or you could lose everything” maxim, but for me it’s simply a great, always-startling reminder to move my thankfulness from the general to the particular. Learning to “give thanks in all things for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” is not quick work. We are all mostly beginners, especially when it comes to unmet expectations, disappointing relationships, crushing circumstances, or personal failures. It may not be quick work, but it is good! It lets us see people and situations more through God’s eyes and less through our own.
What is one challenging “particular” you could thank God for today, trusting Him with the results?
The practice of thankfulness builds relationship.
Most of us who have been Christians for a long time have unanswered questions. And we can be afraid of those questions—afraid that we won’t “hear” answers or even that there are no answers. But as I’ve been rebuilding a foundation of thankfulness to God “in everything,” I’ve discovered something entirely different. Heartfelt thankfulness leads to a closer connection, much as it does in relationships with people. In this atmosphere of love and trust, I can ask those hard questions. And through some wonderful work of God, which I don’t understand (but for which I am thankful!), I’m better able to live with both answers and mystery.
Will you let thankfulness draw you closer to God?
Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to publically express thankfulness for family, friends, food…and Jesus, but it can be so much more. It can also be a great starting point for privately exploring, expanding, and embracing day-by-day gratitude to God for all of the parts of this precious here-and-now life.
Betty Fletcher is an editor, writer, and photographer with 25 years of publishing experience in the Christian trade. Her photography is featured in Gentle Prayers for Hope and Healing and Because You Care. She makes her home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
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Begin the Journey to Healing Broken Relationships
When I wrote Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children, my only child was serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison, of which he served ﬁve years. A great deal has happened in the years since.
Like many of our troubled kids, he has above-average language skills and can masterfully manipulate a conversation—yet his social skills, decision-making ability, and coping mechanisms are below average. He is a grown man who struggles every day to survive, and my heart aches for him.
After all these years, I still want him to ﬁnd his purpose and live the life God has planned for him.
Yet it seems I want this for him more than he wants it for himself. And so, like many parents, I’ve had to learn how to let go—to love my son with open arms and trust that God is in control. I’m certainly not.
Thousands of parents have reached out to me for help over the years—generous, loving, caring, and often hopeless parents. Grasping at straws yet fearful of the truth and its consequences, they are desperate to know what to do. Many lack the resources—ﬁnancial and emotional—or the knowledge of what to do. They feel alone, yet statistics prove that is not the case. There are so many of us brokenhearted parents of broken kids.
But when we put our hope in God, we will never be disappointed. Hope is always based on the guaranteed promises of God, and hope is something we can give to our struggling adult children. After all, “[God] helps us [parents] in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others [our adult children] who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 GNT).
Hope and healing can miraculously replace fear and pain when we make the transition from “This isn’t how life is supposed to be” to “This is how life is. Now what does God want me to learn and do?” This transition starts when we can begin to see our troubled adult children for who they really are rather than who we wish they were.
For many of us, this shift in perspective is going to require genuine fortitude as we revisit some of the painful situations and circumstances that have brought us to where we are today. It’s never easy to look at illnesses and issues that have caused considerable damage not only to the life of our children, but to our relationship with them as well.
Realize, however, that despite all this discussion about our oﬀspring, the journey you need to take is ultimately about you and your choices.
It’s a journey that will change your life. And—God willing—the life of your troubled adult child.
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Do You Have a Thirst for Bible Knowledge?
If you think about the Bible’s impact on our world and on human history, you shouldn’t be surprised you’re interested in exploring and learning more about it. Whether you’re an avid reader or a “Sunday browser,” you have a sense of the Bible’s importance. God’s Word continues to be the No. 1 bestseller. More than 100 million copies are sold globally each year, and countless others are distributed for free in countries open to and closed to its availability. By understanding the Bible better, you can also recognize and appreciate the unspoken influence it has on our everyday lives.
What increases our interest in and devotion to the greatest book of all time? Despite a plethora of theories, reasons, and continued debate, for most of us the Bible has a proven track record. Millions of people around the globe have encountered the Scriptures, and these teachings have enriched and transformed lives, as well as shaped the way we think about our world.
Some people first encountered the Bible at a young age. Others discovered it later in life, perhaps because of a personal crisis or as a next step on a spiritual journey. What is your motivation for reading this book right now? Is it a self-challenge to learn just how much you know (or don’t know yet) about the Bible? Or are you simply thinking it will be fun to learn something new?
Whatever your reason, I hope you appreciate the Bible’s impact around the world and in your own home. We are all blessed to have our lives changed by the Bible’s ultimate truths, such as these amazing prophecies from the book of Isaiah. Jesus fulfilled them all!
Isaiah's Prophecies of the Messiah
|Spoke in parables||Isaiah 6: 9-10||Matthew 13:13-15|
|Born of a virgin||Isaiah 7:14||Matthew 1:18|
|Ministered in Galilee||Isaiah 9:1-2||Matthew 4:12-17|
|Healed the blind||Isaiah 35:5||John 9:1-7|
|Healed the deaf||Isaiah 35:5||Mark 7:32-35|
|Healed the lame||Isaiah 35:6||Matthew 15:30|
|Had compassion for the poor||Isaiah 42:3||Matthew 11:4-5|
|A light to the Gentiles||Isaiah 42:6||Luke 2:28-32|
|Sent by God||Isaiah 48:16||John 7:29|
|Came to glorify God||Isaiah 49:3||John 17:1|
|Grieved over the Jews' unbelief||Isaiah 49:4||Luke 19:41-42|
|His face beaten and spat upon||Isaiah 50:6||Matthew 26:6-7|
|His back whipped||Isaiah 50:6||Matthew 27:26|
|Shed his blood for all||Isaiah 52:15||Revelation 1:5|
|Rejected by his own people||Isaiah 53:3||John 1:11|
|Suffered for others||Isaiah 53:4-5||Matthew 8:16-17|
|Oppressed and afflicted||Isaiah 53:7||Matthew 27:27-31|
|Silent when accused||Isaiah 53:7||Matthew 26:62-63|
|Buried with the rich||Isaiah 53:9||Matthew 27:57-60|
|Suffered willingly||Isaiah 53:11||John 12:27|
|Gave up his life to save humanity||Isaiah 53:12||Luke 23:46|
|Crucified with sinners||Isaiah 53:12||Matthew 27:38|
|Preached the good news||Isaiah 61:1-2||Luke 4:17-22|
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The Six Big Mistakes People Make with Prophecy
“See that no one misleads you.”
The world of Bible prophecy is a fascinating field of study, but it is not without its pitfalls. There seems to be a cacophony of noise concerning the end times today. Supposed signs in the heavens, sensationalized headlines, apocalyptic theories, and unfounded predictions have created a perplexing prophetic patchwork, often creating more confusion than clarity. So, how do we navigate through this prophetic haze?
Part of the challenge is that along the path of prophecy are hidden land mines, traps that snare you, and stumbling blocks that threaten to trip you up in your quest for God’s truth. You need a spiritual mine detector alerting you to potential booby traps. These perils along our path further prevent us from understanding the nature, meaning, and possible fulfillment of Scripture’s prophetic truth. Through my experience over the years, I’ve seen many well-intentioned Christians fall prey to schemes and errors that only further lead away from the path of discovery.
I’ve identified what I believe to be the Six Big Mistakes people make with Bible prophecy. These act like padlocks, preventing us from entering, understanding, and applying prophecy to our lives.
- Sensationalizing prophecy
- Scoffing at prophecy
- Ignoring prophecy
- Being slow to believe prophecy
- Misinterpreting prophecy and misleading others
- Misapplying prophecy
Because we are living in the last days of the church age, this is all the more reason Bible prophecy is immensely applicational. God intended for us to know what His Word says—to understand it, believe it, and live our lives in light of it. In fact, it is His desire that every believer read, hear, and take to heart the prophetic word (Revelation 1:3). When studied in its proper context, like the rest of God’s written record, prophecy is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is an integral part of our maturation in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:1-3).
As we examine the topography of prophecy, let’s be aware of these mistakes and traps that threaten to prevent us from understanding God’s Word . Let’s take careful steps to avoid the land mines in our pursuit of God’s truth. Knowing they exist and identifying them is an essential key to unlocking these end-times mysteries.
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Is God on Your To-Do List?
I love making lists!
My love for list making began when I was young. I have memories of creating lists of clothing my Barbie desperately needed. I was not above ranking my stuffed animals from best to worst. And, let me tell you, my Christmas wish lists were epic. I'd pull out the Sears toy catalog, and before long, my list had color-coordinated, itemized footnotes and diagrams.
As adulthood brought new responsibilities and obligations, my list-making habit matured. Gone were the pink Barbie wardrobe lists, only to be replaced with notebooks full of grocery, errand, and baby-name lists. Lists helped take all the ideas and tasks percolating in my head and pin them down on a sheet of paper, all crisp and organized. A good list can do wonders. It can take a mind of fragmented thoughts and turn them into an ordered plan of action or a cohesive idea. A list can add focus to your day and open your mind to exciting new possibilities.
So I got to thinking: What if we took the same energy and imagination we spend on our weekly errand list and applied it to our relationship with our heavenly Father? Practicing and refining our faith every day keeps our walk with God fresh and vital. We can pour into that relationship in myriad ways, including studying the Bible, praying, and journaling. Let's add list making to the mix! Here's some topics to get you started:
Here's some topics to get you started:
List some aspects of God's creation that always astound you. Where in nature do you feel closest to God? How can you carve out more time in your schedule to go there?
List things you often worry about...and should consider bringing to God. Write your worries on slips of paper, give them to God, and place them in a prayer box. If you start worrying about these things again, remember that you already gave them to God!
List your favorite worship songs. What specific lyrics have meant the most to you? Consider sharing on social media.
List the blessings in your life you are most thankful for. This week, try to begin every prayer with a thank-you to God.
List friends who bring goodness into your life. Of all the friends on this list, who have you known the longest? Contact this friend and thank him or her for being part of your life.
As you make your lists, I hope you find joy and inspiration. I challenge you to stretch your imagination! My prayer for you is that this new way of worshiping God can be a creative blessing in your life as you write list after list.
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Jesus Still Changes Everything
From childhood I’ve loved astronomy. I grew up in an unbelieving home. Night after night I’d gaze at the stars, clueless about a Creator, but yearning for something greater than myself.
One night, as I stared through my telescope at the great galaxy of Andromeda with its trillion stars 2.5 million light years away, I was filled with awe. I longed to explore its wonders and lose myself in its vastness.
I read fantasy and science fiction stories of other worlds, of great battles and causes. I knew that the universe was huge beyond comprehension. But my wonder was trumped by a sometimes unbearable sense of loneliness and separation. In retrospect, I think I wanted to worship, but I didn’t know what or who to worship. I wept not only because I felt so insignificant, but also because I felt so disconnected from the Significant One I did not know or know of.
Several years later, at age fifteen, after attending a church youth group, I opened a Bible and saw these words for the first time: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And then I read verse 14, the greatest understatement ever: “He made the stars also.” A universe one hundred billion light years across containing countless stars, and the Bible makes them sound like a casual add-on!
I quickly realized that this book was about the Person who made the universe, including Andromeda and Earth—and me.
I had no reference points when I read the Bible. All of it was new, intriguing, sometimes confusing, and utterly disorienting. But when I reached the Gospels, something changed. I was immediately fascinated by Jesus. I’d been an avid reader of fiction, but I knew this wasn’t fiction. I knew Jesus wasn’t just a character in a story. I soon came to believe that he not only lived two thousand years ago, but that he still lived. Everything about Jesus of Nazareth struck me as completely believable. And, somehow, I knew he was the One my heart had always longed for.
By a miracle of grace, Jesus touched me deeply, gave me a new heart, and utterly transformed my life. Forty-five years later, he’s still unveiling himself and changing me into his image and likeness. I couldn’t be happier that he’s every bit as real to me now as the moment I met him—but now I know him better, and therefore worship him more deeply.
For me, Jesus didn’t just change everything back then. He still changes everything today. There’s no more worthy subject to set our minds on than Jesus himself. He is “the Alpha and the Omega…the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13).
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Learn to See Yourself the Way God Sees You
I will never forget the day I first looked in one of those lighted magnifying mirrors. You know, the ones you can buy for your bathroom counter? They come in different levels of magnification. The one I bought was five times magnification because I needed to see certain things on my face and skin more clearly for the sake of good grooming.
I set it up, turned on the light, looked in the mirror, and nearly frightened myself to death.
I am warning you now that this is not for the faint of heart and you must prepare yourself in advance. First of all, be assured before you look in it that no one on earth sees you the way the mirror is reflecting you, with every pore and blemish enlarged; every brown sunspot, broken capillary, wrinkle, and line enhanced; and each imperfection—many of which you never even knew were there—illuminated.
I have since recovered from that initial shock, but it took a while. And as time goes on there is more to see, so it actually doesn’t become an increasingly pleasant experience. It’s just something you know you have to do and you are more prepared to endure it.
Seeing yourself the way God sees you is like looking into a giant magnifying mirror of your entire being. But He sees you from the perspective of all He made you to be. He sees all the gifts, purpose, and potential in you, having been put there by the One who not only thought about you before you were born but had a plan for your life.
We too often see only the negative things in ourselves. We painfully observe where we are weak, lacking, or failing. God sees all that too, but He doesn’t consider it all bad.
For example, God sees your weakness as an opportunity for you to trust Him to be strong in you. Your weakness surrendered to God enables you to gain strength from Him beyond anything you could ever have without Him.
God sees whatever you lack as a possibility that you will turn to Him and declare your dependence on Him so He can supply all your needs.
God sees your failure as an invitation for you to walk closely with Him, so He can empower you to accomplish what you couldn’t begin to do on your own.
If you are not certain about all of this, then I invite you to seek God beyond what you ever have before and come to know Him better. The better you know who God really is, the more you will recognize how much you need Him. And needing Him is always a good thing.
The more we seek to know God in greater depth, the more He shows us about Himself. When we truly open up to God and invite Him to reveal Himself to us, He will do that. And this is something we must do. For we will never know who we really are until we understand who He really is.
God also shows us the truth about ourselves when we ask Him to do so. That can seem daunting, but don’t let the idea scare you. The good news is that He doesn’t let us see everything at once—both about Him and about ourselves—which would be overwhelming in either case. He lets us see a little at a time as we seek Him.
If you have a heart that longs to know the truth and yearns for a way to become all you were created to be, spend time with God every day getting to know Him. When you understand His amazing goodness, holiness, perfection, and love, it is healing for your soul.
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Marvel at God’s Great Masterpiece
Posted on Oct 25, 2018 Topic : Inspirational/Devotional
When reading the book of Matthew or Luke, it’s tempting to skip over the long lists of names found in the early chapters. After reading three or four names into one of these lists, you may feel your eyes start to glaze over.
Get to the good part, you may be thinking! These long family trees may not seem as interesting as the familiar stories about the shepherds and the wise men, but every word of the Bible is from God, so if he thought it was important for us to know who was in Jesus’s family tree, we need to pay attention.
To understand why the genealogies listed in Matthew and Luke are important, think of the story of Jesus as you would a huge painting or mosaic—a masterpiece by a master artist, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
Michelangelo took four years to complete the huge work, and only when viewed from a distance, from the floor of the chapel, can the scale and scope of the full work be appreciated. In the same way, when we look at the big picture of Christmas, we can appreciate the thousands of years and millions of tiny brushstrokes God used to complete the masterpiece of the birth of Christ.
Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah, a figure the Jews had been told would be a king. Unlike a president, a king does not come to rule by ballot, but by birth. A king has to prove his right to the throne by proving he is descended from the royal family.
God had revealed that the Messiah’s “right to rule” would be proven by three things: He would come from the family of Abraham (Genesis 22:18), he would come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and he would come from the house of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Now you see why God thought it was important for us to see these names in Jesus’s family tree—they demonstrate his legal right to the throne.
But the genealogies reveal even more than that. Jesus’s legal right to rule came through Joseph, but the Bible makes clear that the Messiah would be a descendent of David. As Joseph’s adopted son, Jesus was a legal descendent but not a descendent of David by birth. Just so there would be no doubt at all about Jesus’s claim to the throne, God told Luke to include the other side of his genealogy—his mother’s side—which can also be traced back to David through one of his other sons. Jesus was physically born of Mary, so her genealogy shows us that he was a literal descendent of David as well as a legal descendent.
God didn’t leave one square inch of his canvas unfinished. He didn’t use one brushstroke too many or too few, but just the right strokes and just the right colors to create the masterpiece of the birth of Christ.
Dear Father, thank you for being the master artist who arranges our lives the same way you arranged Jesus’s claim to his throne. Help us to trust that you are always working to place us exactly where you want us in the masterpiece you’re creating.
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Are You on a Hunt for Hope?
People who hunt and fish share a common attitude. As one who is happy doing either, I can testify that this shared mindset is nonstop while enthusiasts are in the woods or on the water. What is it? The answer is…we are always hoping.
Why does hope remain constant the entire time I’m out there doing what I love to do? It’s because I’m in a place where I believe something exciting could happen at any moment. I’m never bored when I’m hunting or fishing because it’s virtually impossible to be hopeful and bored at the same time.
I’ve also found that hope grows stronger when the time is nearing to head back to the truck or motor back to the dock. When I’m hunting, for example, such as a planned meeting that I can’t miss or a setting sun, I get extra watchful and doubly hopeful. And if I haven’t seen anything to that point, the intensity of the anticipation can reach lip-biting levels.
The same growing hopefulness also happens when I’m around water with a line and a rod. If I know I soon have to reel in, de-bait, and pull up anchor, my casting speeds up and the lure cuts the water just a little faster.
The hope that has kept me on the edge of my seat on a ladder stand or in a boat has served a good spiritual purpose. It has helped me as a follower of Christ to better understand the “blessed hope” of His appearing. Believing it can happen any moment is indeed a sacred hope because it makes a life that is never boring, and, more important, never hopeless.
One thing that makes the “blessed hope” grow even stronger in my heart is hearing the current and trusted teachers of Bible prophecy say with confidence that we’re not far from Christ’s return. To put it in hunter’s terms, the moment is nearing to leave the woods, so it’s time to listen harder and watch closer!
As one who is excited that the prophetic indicators point to a soon end of the age and the appearing of Christ as Redeemer of His people, my hope is intensifying. As it grows daily, I say with John the Revelator, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20 KJV).
God, I’m so grateful for the blessing of hope. I truly enjoy its benefit in the outdoors, but how much more wonderful is the hope that You will keep Your promise to return and deliver Your people from a world that is growing darker by the day. I want to be among those who are constantly excited, hoping and looking for Your appearance. By Your grace applied to my life, it will be so. Praise and glory be to your mighty name. And…come quickly, Lord! Amen.
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The Secret to Overcoming Temptation
Posted on Oct 16, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Bruce H. Wilkinson
How big of a sin are your temptations? To answer that important question, you need to understand a five foundational biblical truths about your temptations
1. Temptations are not sinful or anything you should be ashamed of.
Many people have always felt ashamed of their temptations. Why? Because they have assumed that temptations must be sinful. That’s probably the reason no one ever speaks about their temptations—we are ashamed of them.
But the Bible clearly states that temptations are not a sin. Hebrews 4:15 contains the startling information:
We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus was tempted in all points like we are, but He never sinned! If temptations were a sin, then Jesus sinned, because He was tempted just like we are. But the Bible clearly states that Jesus was sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5). Therefore, temptations cannot be a sin or anything to be ashamed of.
2. Temptations are experienced by every single human being.
No one escapes the onslaught of temptations. Not a single person. Hebrews 4:15 reveals that everyone is tempted: “But was in all points tempted as we are.” Did you see the words “as we are,” without any exceptions or limitations? You are tempted; she is tempted; he is tempted; they are tempted; I am tempted.
3. Temptations come to everyone, no matter how godly.
Far too many of us are tragically misinformed about the truth of temptations. People assume that the more godly a person becomes, the less temptations that person will face. Yet the most godly of all humans who ever lived, Jesus Christ, was “in all points tempted as we are”! Jesus wasn’t just tempted a little, but in “all” ways. Shocking, isn’t it ? Godliness does not in any way limit the number of temptations we may receive.
4. Temptations are normal, God-given desires that seek to trespass God’s boundaries.
What exactly are temptations? The answer may surprise you because temptations are based on the normal desires that God gave to all of us but with one thing out of place: Those desires seek to trespass the boundaries God established for us.
In other words, a temptation is simply a good desire gone bad!
Our God-given desires become temptations when we desire too much, or go too far, or seek to fulfill them in the wrong place or with the wrong person . Temptations are simply the inner push of our normal desires to overstep God’s boundaries. Often the Bible calls our sins a trespass, which means to go beyond a clear boundary into forbidden or off-limits territory.
5. Temptations precede every single sin; if you overcome temptations, you won’t sin.
Every sin you have ever committed or will commit is always—and I mean always—preceded by a temptation! If you aren’t tempted, guess what? You won’t sin!
You must embrace this all-important fact: Temptations precede every sin.
With that in mind, look at how Hebrews 4:15 connects temptations and sin: “But was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus was tempted, but He did not permit the desires He felt to find inappropriate fulfillment in any selfish or sinful act. This means Jesus felt the desire, just like all of us do; He just chose not to allow those desires to give birth to sin.
Perhaps the great overlooked secret of overcoming sin in your life is to focus on defeating the temptations you face, and not so much on defeating the sins that are the result of your choice to give in to your temptations! Here are the three stages working in every temptation: Desire →Temptation →Sin
If you tone down the intensity of your wrongful desire, then temptations flee into the darkness, powerless and defeated. When you defeat a temptation, you no longer have to struggle with that particular desire to sin because you exercised your self-discipline and said no to that straying desire.
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Why We Have to Choose Prayer Over Worry
Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. Philippians 4:6-7
In•stead, adverb, as an alternative or substitute for; in place of, rather
Decisions are hard for most people. I learned this working in an ice cream shop during high school and college. Baskin-Robbins, also known as “31 Flavors,” was a popular place. Those of us who worked there knew that there were actually more than 31 flavors most of the time. The ice cream cases held 48 different tubs, and there were even more back in the freezer.
It was difficult for people to choose. Go with the favorite, or try the new flavor of the month? In a chocolaty mood, or did a fruit flavor sound better? For the little ones, it was really a struggle. Bubblegum or rainbow sherbet? Or maybe just plain vanilla instead?
The word instead usually implies a choice, a decision. So when Paul tells us, “Instead of worrying, pray,” the next step is up to us. To pray instead of worrying is a choice. It is a discipline that doesn’t come easily.
Pray as an alternative to worrying.
Substitute prayer for worry.
Rather than worrying, pray.
We try to do this, but we usually end up doing a little of both. We pray and worry. But that doesn’t bring the peace, the sense of wholeness that Jesus wants to give us. He wants us to trust him completely. To make the decision to pray in place of worrying. To thank him and praise him even before we see his answers.
He waits for us to just order the ice cream already. He wants us to decide, believing that he can handle it and that he really is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28). As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book The Inner Voice of Love:
The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need… God says to you, “I love you, I am with you…” This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice.
Invite him in. Try it. Ask God to help you choose to pray instead of worrying about something today. He will help you put your requests, your needs in his hands—and leave them there. Let him assure you that everything is coming together for good. Then, take a deep breath of peace as his wholeness envelops you and settles you down. You can trust him completely.
Start with this prayer:
Dear Jesus, thank you that I can bring everything to you. Please help me choose to trust you with all my stress. You are the only one who can take my fearful concerns and give me your peace instead.
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Jesus Is More Than A Prophet
The Qur’an mentions Jesus by name 25 times, and He is alluded to in many other places. It is clear even from a casual reading of the Qur’an that Jesus is highly revered as an important prophet or messenger (Arabic, nabi or rasul) sent by God.
We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?—Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay! (Surah 2:87).
Jesus is presented in the Qur’an as one of a great succession of prophets and “warners” (Arabic, natheer) sent by Allah to forewarn all people throughout history about God’s coming judgment and to point them to the right path, Islam. These messengers of Allah included the first man, Adam, and many others, like the prophet Hud (Surah 7:65), who is not mentioned in the Bible. Most of the prophets identified in the Qur’an, however, are men named in the Bible:
Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered (Surah 2:136).
Islam teaches that the ministry of Jesus was prophesied by the earlier prophets, and that He was in every way a true prophet who must be obeyed. In fact, those who truly submit to Allah are to make no preferential distinctions between any of Allah’s prophets. This command to accept all the prophets without distinction is to be recited by Muslims (Surah 2:136). In Surah 3, Muhammad was also commanded to recite the command:
Say (O Muhammad): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered (Surah 3:84).
Thus, Muslims are not merely following the prophet Muhammad. Instead, Muslims are commanded in the Qur’an to obey all the prophets whom Allah sent throughout history.
Christians agree that Jesus was a prophet of God, but add that He was more than a prophet. Christians furthermore assert that we have the prophecies of Jesus today, and that many of His prophecies have already been fulfilled and others are yet to be fulfilled. Christians affirm that the prophecies of Jesus were recorded by the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and that the four Gospels we have today have accurately preserved those prophecies.
Thus Christians not only honor Jesus as a prophet of God, they also possess Scriptures containing copies of His prophecies. We have His prophecies as well as His sermons, teachings, parables, and warnings. This gives Christians the opportunity to evaluate, test, and affirm the teachings of Jesus. We can learn essential truths from both the prophecies that have already been fulfilled and those that are yet to be fulfilled.
Christians agree with Muslims that Jesus was a prophet, but there are important distinctions between the two. While the Qur’an strongly asserts that Jesus was a prophet of God, it is significant that virtually none of the prophecies proclaimed by Jesus can be found in the Qur’an.
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Why Should You Care About the Creation Story?
The first chapters of Genesis are often encountered by adults as a controversial text about the age of the earth or the design of human sexuality, or we skip over the pre-fall story altogether and jump straight to what we learn about temptation and sin. While there are important things to be gleaned from those discussions, more and more I find myself realizing the creation account is essential to our understanding of how to live in the “already” and what we long for in the “not yet.”
These verses offer a unique glimpse into what human life was designed to be before the intrusion of sin; the same things we should expect for our lives after death. There is sometimes a temptation to think of our bodies as shells to be discarded in death as we float off to an entirely new and utterly other place we call “heaven,” but traditional Christian eschatology affirms that we look forward to a bodily resurrection and living a restored life enjoying the new heavens and the new earth.
If we likewise affirm this is true, we have every reason to believe that the things which preexist sin—our bodies, relationships, work, and rest—are all essential to human flourishing.
There are huge implications for how we then live in this life as already-redeemed people. God wants us to care about:
God made our bodies and called them good, therefore our bodies and the bodies of others are valuable and ought to be cared for. This belief should serve as the guiding principle for how we as Christians think about a spectrum of issues—human trafficking, sexual harassment and assault, poverty, mental health, adoption and fostering, fertility issues, and so much more. These issues are complicated and messy, but we should always start with and harken back to our calling to care deeply for the protection and health of the body.
It is impossible for humans to flourish outside of community. Instead of making humans solitary creatures designed only for relationship with Him, God also made us to work and live alongside of other humans. Building and maintaining healthy community life through our neighborhoods, churches, schools, and workplaces (among others) is essential to our spiritual health.
God also made us to work and work is good. He didn’t say, “Lie in this leaf hammock and be served by the beasts.” He said “have dominion over all the earth” (Genesis 1:26) and then gifted Adam and Eve with the ability to procreate, cultivate their food, and steward the animals and other natural resources. In this life then, our work (paid and unpaid) is meaningful.
Finally, rest is required. In fact, it’s called “holy.” God rests once He finishes creating not because He’s tired, but because He’s showing us there’s something sacred in the rhythm of work and rest, in the joy of a job well completed.
As we seek to live out this basic theology in our daily lives, we also model for our children obedience and submission to God’s design for human flourishing. This sort of modeling is essential to encourage children to develop healthy life habits and values—children are far more likely to do what they see, not what you say. Our families are the best place to start cultivating a microcosm of God’s kingdom, learning from the beginning of our world to live into our hope of the end and the restoration of all things.
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Adjusting to an Empty Nest? Let God Be Your Comfort
They came in a hurry, filling our home with noise, toys, friends, commotion, and more activity than my husband and I knew what to do with. And they left in similar rapid succession. During the child-raising years the house takes on the aura of a dormitory, summer camp, library, gymnasium, locker room, and dining hall. And after a bewildering set of months punctuated by nights fretting over applications, deadlines, college orientations, or visits to the local recruiting office…poof! They’re gone.
For the mom whose ears are tuned to kids showering at six thirty every morning, those first days in a kid-free house make you feel like death has struck. Sure, it may feel like a luxury to get up and make coffee for yourself and perhaps a spouse, but the quiet is deafening, and the emptiness unsettling.
One morning, over my cup of coffee, it hits me. We were six people living in this house. Then we were five and then four, then three and now two. And every time I find myself at home alone, I realize it’s just me. I’m the one left, turning on the radio so someone will talk to me as I clean up the kitchen.
When kids first leave, I avoid their bedrooms, fearful of the feelings I might encounter if I dare enter. But inevitably someone calls home needing that sweater I had encouraged them to take along in the first place, and digging for it leads to sorting out clothes along with bucketloads of gut-wrenching emotions. This ache deep inside…what is it? I have known this gnawing discomfort before. But when? Pausing to consider, it finally dawns on me; it was when my little brother died thirty years ago and grieving became my second college major.
I am not skillful at handling grief…partly because of its unpredictable and ill-timed nature. One day I can walk into the high school just to say hello to our kids’ favorite teachers and all will be well. But on another day, the same sort of visit might leave me stunned by a ridiculous flood of tears that makes me want to escape and call a friend. At moments like these I find it helpful to remember that God is in the business of comforting His people. He knows when our mother-hearts are breaking and need to be soothed.
Jesus says it so simply in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Blessed is the mom who is mourning the loss of golden days when her children were at home filling the rooms with warmth and light, craziness and noise—young enthusiasm at full tilt. An actual death isn’t required to necessitate the work of grief. And it is work—hard work. Remembering Jesus’s words of comfort and care is a good place to start.
And give yourself time. It won’t always feel as painful as it does when they first leave. So please, go easy on yourself, especially during the first shockingly quiet kid-free months. Allow yourself moments to grieve. They are much-needed steps toward healing.
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The Key to Creating a Rich Quiet Time Habit
Posted on Oct 02, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Jane Johnson
When I was seven, I wore an eyepatch. It wasn’t the kind of pirate-patch like you would wear for Halloween. It was the Band-Aid kind that was decorated with sparkles and stickers to pretty it up and disguise the fact that it was, indeed, an eyepatch. I was born with an inherent laziness in my right eye that made it sometimes wander, eventually requiring corrective surgery. So I wore the prettied-up-patch over my good eye to strengthen the weak muscles in the lazy one before the procedure.
And so it was that if you were looking for seven-year-old lazy-eyed Jane, you would likely find me on the playground, using my good eye to peek through a loosened corner peephole of a sweaty eye patch.
But there was always a box of replacements waiting in a drawer of my teacher’s desk. So I’d go through the rest of the school day with my good eye blinded, pretending to see normally when everything was actually a blurry, jumbled, and frustrating mess.
It’s ironic that I ended up in a camera career that is dependent upon having a good eye. If you’re looking for me now, you will likely find me sitting in front of the computer editing photographs—the weak-eyed photographer who trained her one good eye to see well enough for two.
When things are lazy, they are prone to wander. That’s why a regular, habitual quiet time is so important: It staves off a lazy faith and protects against a wandering heart.
Before we go any further in this journey of learning to study Scripture, let’s pause to recognize and acknowledge the things that prevent a rich and habitual quiet time.
Sometimes, it’s simple prone-to-wander laziness. But not always. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with people who truly hunger for a daily, dedicated quiet time and are quick to provide a laundry list of reasons why it just hasn’t worked for them—reasons that end up creating bruised shins from never quite clearing the create-a-habit hurdle.
Clearing that hurdle comes down to what it always comes down to: You have to really want it. You have to want it badly enough to overcome the opposition that comes against you. And boy, will it come. It’s no accident that David described the table God prepared for him in Psalm 23 as being in the presence of his enemies. And what bigger enemy do we have than Satan? The last thing that little devil wants is for us to sit in the presence of God. He doesn’t want us focused and intentional—eagerly and expectantly waiting for God’s presence to be made manifest.
There are 24 different Hebrew words and 15 Greek words for the single English word wait in the Bible. One of them specifically refers to staying at home and expecting a visitor. Moses used it in Exodus 24 as he prepared to go up to Mount Sinai with Joshua to receive the Ten Commandments.
“Wait here for us until we come back to you,” Moses said (v. 14).
It’s the same type of anticipation you need to have when you approach your quiet time: Stay put and expect God to join you right there on your perch. Whether it’s an overstuffed chair at home, your kitchen table, or a table tucked away in a coffee shop, expect Him to come to you.
When we get into a daily, habitual quiet time, we begin to learn and recognize God’s voice and expect Him to whisper-reveal Himself. That’s powerful. And it’s the last thing Satan wants. You better believe he’s right there at our table that God prepares for us every single day, doing everything he can to distract, confuse, and create disinterest in the Word of God.
Whatever the obstacle that keeps you from meeting with God daily, I encourage you to find a handful of verses related to your struggle and turn them into Scripture-prayers. Because praying with our own words is powerful, but praying God’s Word is unstoppable. Using Scripture-prayers in your daily quiet time is taking God at His Word and believing Him for the fulfillment of it.
It’s time to stretch your legs, leap over the obstacles, and dare yourself to deepen your understanding of the Bible. You’ll be blown away at the things you dig up.
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What Makes a True Hero?
The word “hero” is misused and overused in our culture. Dictionary.com (what happened to thumbing through the ten-pound Merriam-Webster version?) defines a hero as a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character; a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal; or the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.
Yet, as you read publications or online articles or watch the news, you find that the word “hero” gets tossed about like pennies into a fountain.
Heroes, it seems, are a dime a dozen today.
Or are they?
What is it that makes a true hero? Ability? Achievements? Popularity? Power? Or is it something more intrinsic, something deeper?
I say it is.
Look back at the definition above. Nobility of character…regarded as a role model or ideal. Heroes are not characters, as the media would sometimes have us think. Rather, they are people of character. Good character. Men and women whom others admire and even want to follow because of their example of virtue and selflessness. Those who exhibit—no, embody—traits such as commitment, leadership, perseverance, teamwork, respect, integrity, responsibility, self-control, and compassion. These are true champions in my book.
These people are human, for sure. Fallible? You bet. Flawed and imperfect? Like us all. Yet something lies deep within them that makes them worthy of our admiration. They never give up, they treat people right, they live in integrity, and they use their platform to impact others. This describes the heart of a true champion…or maybe even a hero.
I’ve had the incredible privilege of telling the stories of these kinds of true champions for more than 30 years. I’ve been all over the U.S. and trekked to different countries to talk with them, observe them, and then tell their stories.
These men and women exhibit the heart of a true champion. They have been acclaimed for their records, medals, and titles, and they have been considered among the best in the world at what they do. Yet each one lives for something greater, something bigger than themselves. As you read stories of true heroes, I hope you see what I have seen, and I hope you, too, are inspired to live for something greater.
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Let This Sink In
Posted on Sep 26, 2018 Topic : Prophecy
Posted by : Todd Hampson
“Men of Galilee,” they said. “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11
Have you ever really thought about the truth contained in this verse or in many others like it? If the idea of Christ’s return has become overly familiar to you, read that verse again and let it sink in as if you had never heard it before. Scripture tells us Jesus is literally coming back to earth one day. Are you aware of how frequently the writers of the New Testament wrote about the promised return of Christ? Of the 27 books in the New Testament, 23 mention his return. Jesus often spoke about it himself. In the 66 books of the Bible, you'll find that one out of every 30 verses refers to the return of Christ or the topic of the end times. So it's fair to say this is a major biblical theme from cover to cover.
Down through the centuries, Jesus’ followers have fully believed, taught, and expected that he would return. During the past 2,000 years of church history, core Christian beliefs have been codified into simple statements of faith called creeds. These concise statements affirm that the return of Christ has always been a key focus of the Christian faith. This truth has brought encouragement to generations of Christians who have looked to a promised future where all things will be made right. We are reminded of this promise every time we take communion and “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). We also pray for the arrival of the end-times in the Lord’s prayer whenever we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
However, in recent decades, the topic of Christ’s return has, for various reasons, taken a bad rap. What comes to mind when some Christians read these words? Revelation. Apocalypse. Armageddon. End-times. The Last days. Judgment. Do images of a bullhorn-wielding sidewalk preacher donned in a sandwich board comes to mind?
Unfortunately the topic of Christ’s return has been hijacked by caricatured notions of what the Bible actually teaches. It’s not a doom-and-gloom scare tactic. His return is a foundational truth of the Christian faith, but in our day, some Christians tend to treat the topic like a crazy uncle the family never talks about.
In conversations with fellow believers, I find that most of them truly believe the Lord is going to return at some point, but they see this as a distant event with no real relevance for us today. Many are confused about the last days or they completely ignore the topic. This is understandable for many reasons, but studying eschatology and Bible prophecy is a thousand times more relevant and practical than many Christians realize. Revelation 1:3 boldly states, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” So the final book of the Bible, which many believers in our day tend to avoid, informs us that there are specific blessings for those who read it!
When we look at the Bible’s description of end-time conditions and the specific signs Jesus said to look for, it’s evident that His return is closer than most think. Romans 13:11-12 says, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” If that was true then, it is even more true now! We need to live with a sense of expectation and urgency, and we should let that guide our daily choices and our passion to tell others about Christ.
Living with this type of expectancy also helps us deal with the tough things life can throw at us. If we know this is not our home and that we will see the Lord relatively soon, either by death or rapture—this mindset can help us endure and stay strong in our faith despite anything the world throws at us!
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Invite Autumn Into Your Kitchen with This Cozy Comfort Food Recipe
Posted on Sep 25, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Shay Shull
"What's for dinner?"
That famous phrase can make a woman's heart beat just a little faster. What's for dinner? What's for dinner? What's for dinner? Hmm...
Growing up, my mom put a hot meal on the table each and every night. It was always homemade, it was always delicious, and it was always spur-of-the-moment. My mom is famous for being in the middle of actually cooking our dinner (like ground beef was browning) and yet still not knowing what we were going to be having—a mere 15 minutes later! That is how my mom meal-planned. As she was cooking, she was planning.
Me? I need a very specific meal plan for the week. I need exact recipes, a solid grocery list, and a well-stocked pantry. I like to prepare everything in advance so that on busy nights I know exactly what to reach for and exactly what to prepare.
To celebrate fall, here's a delicious meal that makes a great main dish or side:
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
I'm always looking for ways to add butternut squash or pumpkin to our family's fall dishes. I love the flavor, and I also love the extra boost of veggies—with all those good vitamins—for my kiddos. The other night, we made this for dinner along with some brisket, and it was a huge hit!
1 pound short-cut pasta (I use shells)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot (or red onion), diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 (10 ounce) package butternut squash, thawed and pureed
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated (plus a little extra for garnish)
About 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat and add the pasta. Cook until al dente (about 6 or 7 minutes).
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the shallot in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a nice pinch of salt and pepper for about 3 minutes or until nice and tender. Add another drizzle of olive oil. Next, whisk in the flour and cook about 1 minute. Then whisk in the milk. Whisk everything together about a minute before whisking in the pureed squash. Continue whisking over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens (it takes a couple of minutes). Once the sauce is thick enough to coat your spoon, whisk in the Cheddar and Parmesan cheese along with the thyme.
Drain the water from the cooked pasta and pour the squash mixture on top of the pasta. Serve immediately and garnish with a little extra Parmesan and thyme. Enjoy!
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Find the Miracle in the Mayhem of Motherhood
Posted on Sep 20, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Jami Amerine
I don’t know about you, but I admit, I started my parenting journey believing in a consequential God. In all fairness, my entire life is based on the consequential.
If I put the baby to bed too early, then I will have to get up too early.
If the toddlers take a nap in the car, then I will bust free from the confines of my Weight Watchers points and eat pie and Cheez-Its.
If I don’t put the laundry away as soon as it is folded, then it will sit on the table until Sunday lunch.
If the laundry is still on the table for Sunday lunch, then it will get dumped in the laundry basket and be rewashed and refolded and not put away again.
If I eat that piece of pie, then I will give up all hope and lose another week of healthy eating and just vow to start over on Monday—and then I will follow up the pie with Cheez-Its.
Steeped in an if/then lifestyle, it is hard for me to fathom a God unchanged by my actions.
In his book God without Religion, Dr. Andrew Farley reminds us that “God is not in a swivel chair, rotating his face away when we sin. Because of the cross, his face is always toward us.” This image of a “swivel-chair Jesus” resonated with my long-held understanding of a Lord of consequence rather than of mercy. For years I envisioned a Jesus who turned His back on me when He was displeased and spun around to face me only when I was good. What an exhausting way to believe. What an exhausting way to live.
Maybe you’re exhausted by these beliefs too. Have you ever had these thoughts run through your mind?
If I get up and have my quiet time, then Jesus will bless me.
If I pray really hard, then Jesus will hear me.
If I fast, then God will have mercy on me.
If we don’t go to church, then God will be furious.
If we go to church, then God will sanctify us.
If I continue to mess up, then I might get sick, or one of my children will suffer.
But no matter how good our plans and intentions, our imperfections get in the way. Our sin separates us from the living God. So Jesus, who was and is without sin, sacrificed Himself for us. If the law had worked, then we wouldn’t have needed a Savior.
The realization that Jesus sees me as blameless and whole in spite of my sin is beyond the scope of my brain. Still, these are the if/then statements I believe I need to remember:
If Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, then I must believe His blood worked.
If I believe, then I am free from sin and condemnation.
If I am free and cleansed from sin, then He dwells in me.
We can’t control the outcomes of life through our striving. But if we give the control to God, then we can walk the sanctified path of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
When you feel like you're failing at this mom thing, remember this journey is not about being a perfect parent. It’s about being parented by a perfect Father.
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Be Aware of the Play-Action Pass
Do you like to watch football? I do. I loved it as a kid, I loved watching my son play in high school and in college and even a bit in the NFL. And I love to watch it now after a long Sunday morning of back-to-back services at church. Watching football is never dull to me.
One play that often works well is called a play-action pass. The quarterback receives the ball from the center, turns as if he is about to hand the ball off to the running back… but then keeps the ball. The goal of the fake is to get the defense to focus on the running back—until they realize he doesn’t even have the ball. While this is going on, the quarterback quickly hides the ball, runs the other way, and throws a pass to a receiver downfield.
If the quarterback has done his job well, the defense has been lured away from the ball, and the quarterback can throw it to a wide-open receiver.
Did you know that Satan has run a play-action pass on many of us today? 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” He has lured us into running the wrong direction and chasing the wrong goals so he can distract us from our real purpose. Like a pickpocket who loves a crowd, Satan has been robbing too many people of their purpose by distracting them from God’s plan.
One of the best strategies against the play-action pass is to be aware of its existence. When you are aware, your eyes will be open, and you will keep a greater focus on the ball rather than the fake. As you pursue your destiny, be aware of Satan’s schemes so that if you feel you have become distracted from God’s purpose for you, you can double back and get on track sooner rather than later.
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The Ultimate Promise Keeper
Posted on Sep 13, 2018 Topic : Prophecy
Posted by : Todd Hampson
Have you ever been let down? Lied to? Abandoned? Abused? Has that experience tainted your view of the Heavenly Father? If so, I have great news to share with you. Scripture proves that God is a faithful and loving promise-keeper.
Fulfilled Bible prophecy is one of the most compelling evidences that the Bible is from God. We learn from studying Bible prophecy that major historical events were told centuries, and in some cases, thousands of years in advance. These prophecies were fulfilled in exact detail. No other document in the world can make this claim. The only logical explanation is that the book is supernatural in nature.
I can’t show God to you, but I can show you his fingerprints all over fulfilled prophecy. Christianity is believed by faith, but I hope to demonstrate that it is a faith built on facts and evidence rather than a blind faith. God never expected us to check our brains at the door as we consider the claims of Scripture. For those sincerely seeking patterns of evidence, I believe they will follow those patterns to the God of the Bible.
Experts report that 27-33% of the Bible is prophecy. Over 10,000 of the 31,102 verses in the Bible contain prophecy, and half of those have already been fulfilled. That is no small down payment. God has put his money where his mouth is and has demonstrated his promise-keeping faithfulness to generations of believers.
So, if you are hurting today—wondering if there is anything to truly believe in—take a look at the mountain of fulfilled Bible prophecy and know that God loves you, has a glorious plan for your future, and wants you to trust Him, even though others have let you down. The God of the Bible is a true and trustworthy promise-keeper.
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What’s Killing Your Creativity?
“My dad told me actors are a dime a dozen…”
A young man stood up confessing deep pain that lingered in his soul. I was speaking at a film festival and had just asked if any of the filmmakers or actors wanted to share a burden they’ve felt in their creative journey.
His shoulders sunk as the weight of the words flung haphazardly and punched us in the face. They weren’t just words. They carried the power that redefined his destiny for far too long, and we all felt it.
Unfulfilled potential, the loss of a dream, a passion buried beneath the surface—the snake-like-words had wrapped their way into his identity. They poisoned his ability to find freedom in the very thing God had called him to in this season.
We could all relate to him on some level.
For me, it was a battle over a decade ago with depression and an attitude of insignificance that rendered me feeling voiceless.
How about you?
What’s killing your creativity?
- People pleasing
- Rules and regulations
- Fear of rejection or failure
- Depression or feelings of despair
- Feeling stuck in performance mentaility
- Lacking the time to nurture your creativity
Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith.
As believers, our God-given creativity is one of the greatest weapons we carry!
Studies show as our age increases our creativity decreases. Which means the weapon used to often shift culture towards Jesus is left gathering dust. Those negative words that may have marked your timeline or circumstances that has you feeling less than, may have hindered you from shining bright for Him.
Here’s the thing—Jesus freed us from the sin, shame, guilt and pain that entangles us. The stuff that weighs you down from pursuing those things on your heart or stirring in your soul… give it over to Him.
YOU ARE A COURAGEOUS CREATIVE...and not only does your creativity connect you to the Ultimate Creator, but it creates opportunities to glorify Him as you influence the world for Christ!
Just how the young man at the film festival ditched those creativity killers, may we be challenged to do the same.
Comment below with the thing that’s killing your creativity most, and than pray over one another and celebrate all Christ will do!
There’s power in community…and now go and shine on, you creative ninjas, you. Let’s run our creative race well, with our eyes fixed upon Jesus.
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There’s Help and Hope When You’re Going Through a Friend Breakup
Perhaps you’re like me. You have a hard time letting friendships go—even when they’ve run their course, or perhaps because you’ve realized they’ve been a toxic influence in your life.
(Curious if you’re currently encountering one of the seven deadly friendships, you can take the quiz here: 7deadlyfriendships.com)
Maybe you obsess over what you’ve done to create or contribute to the demise. And perhaps you continue to pursue the friend even after it’s probably not wise to do so. Maybe you panic when the friendship shifts, and you grab at its remnant with no small hint of desperation.
Last weekend, one of my friend breakups came to mind when a long-forgotten notification reminded me of her birthday. I felt that familiar panic. What hadn’t I done? What should I have done? Why weren’t we close any more?
The problem with that kind of thinking is twofold:
- We shift all the blame to ourselves and don’t adequately assess both sides of the story.
- We forget that sometimes God moves people out of our lives for reasons only He understands.
When friendships go sour (or we move away, or someone changes), we don’t need to become grabby and clingy. While it’s good to at least have one conversation of final exploration, it’s not good to continually obsess over the change in relationship. Talk about it, then if you sense God giving you the go ahead, move on. No need to gossip. No need to chase.
God has new friendships in store for you. New friendships that will uniquely enhance and shape you in this period of your life. And as #2 intimated, God has His reasons for moving you on (and moving your friend on). Even if there’s no closure, you need to create closure in your mind, otherwise your head will constantly flurry about what happened.
While you may feel helpless after the friend breakup, you do have a choice. You can embitter yourself or ask God to empower you to forgive and let go of bitterness.
If you find yourself in this situation, here’s a prayer you can pray:
God, thank You for ______________. You know I love that person. But I choose to release _____________ in Your hands. Bring _____________ back into my life at Your choosing. Or not. But whatever happens, don’t let me get stuck back there in bitterness. Today, please help me live in anticipation for the new friendships You have for me. And remind me that I will see ____________ in heaven someday, where our friendship will be beautifully set free. Amen.
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How Will God Use Your Passion?
Posted on Sep 04, 2018 Topic : Inspirational/Devotional
Posted by : Sandi Swiridoff
By profession, I’m a registered nurse. And because of my desire to help children in need, I started my career in pediatrics. But I’m also a wife, mother, Christian, friend, quick-witted punster, and passionate photographer who loves to bring joy to others through my photos. Photography is what energizes me and keeps me focused on the beautiful things in life. But in life, as in photography, focus can change. One day, without much notice, foster grandchildren entered my world, and I turned a corner to discover a wonderful new journey.
A few years have passed since then, but sometimes, when I think back on that period, I can still feel the bittersweet and raw tug of the emotions I experienced. My foster grandsons, whom I loved immeasurably, were getting ready to transition from my daughter’s home to their adoptive home. We had been very involved in their lives, and now they were leaving us for their forever home. It was a beautiful but difficult time for our entire family.
And so, as silly and cliché as it sounds, Eric and I thought a puppy might help us fill the child-sized void we would soon experience. One Sunday afternoon we took a drive with our grandsons to “just look”’ at a litter of Australian Labradoodle puppies. However, when we arrived, we discovered only one pup was left in the litter. As I reached down to pick up this little ball of fur, he licked my face. At that moment I knew he was going home with us. That was the day Reagan and I first met.
There is nothing quite like puppy therapy to get through a rough time. Reagan’s spunk and playfulness helped us all. Our grandsons quickly latched on to the notion that we had “adopted” Reagan. We took that and ran with it, using Reagan’s story as an example of real life adoption and how, even though he was sad to leave one family, he was welcomed with love and acceptance into his new family. The boys loved talking about Reagan’s adoption as they prepared for their own.
The weeks flew by, and before I knew it my foster grandsons had transitioned to their new home. Thankfully, Reagan was there to help ease my heartache. He gave me something to focus on (pun intended), loving my camera as much as my camera loved him. We were a match made in heaven.
When Reagan was 11 months old, a new foster grandson entered my life, Little Buddy. Coincidentally, he was also 11 months old, just like Reagan. From the moment they first met, Reagan and Little Buddy have been the best of friends. Reagan always brings a smile to Little Buddy’s face and elicits endless giggles. Watching their bond warms my heart, as they have the same energy level and personality. I began to share glimpses of their special relationship through photos on social media. Eventually, the photos caught the attention of several media outlets and were shared globally, along with our story.
Reagan and Little Buddy have brought so much joy to my life, as have all of my foster grandchildren. I never imagined that a dog and an Instagram account would tie my passions together and impact hundreds of thousands of people along the way.
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Will You Faithfully Do What Jesus Asks?
Around the time that my coauthor, Rachel, and I started pitching the idea of a series featuring stories of influential women of the Bible, I began reading and praying through John 2. Jesus is attending a wedding. And after a few days, the wine runs out. When his mother asks him to intervene, Jesus calls the servants together and asks them to fill six empty jars. "Fill the jars with water", Jesus tells them.
And I sensed an invitation from Jesus. In the story, Jesus doesn’t ask them for a miracle. But he calls ordinary people to be faithful to the task at hand.
"Do the simple task I’ve asked of you—write the stories," Jesus beckoned to me. "Wait, see what I will do."
So we continued to write.
At the time, we believed God had gifted us an idea for a children’s series on women who are disciples, spiritual leaders, moms, businesspeople, and prophets in the Bible. The need was clear: Most children’s Bibles focused on stories like David and Goliath, Abraham, and maybe Paul. So, we began to write the women’s stories...so that girls and boys could see that women are called by God too.
Amid doubt, we continued to fill the jars. To write. To pray. To write some more.
"Fill the jars with water," Jesus continued to tell me.
In the gospel narrative, the servants “filled [the jars] to the brim” (John 2:7). The servants consecrated themselves to the ordinary task at hand. Likewise, we devoted ourselves to crafting our core message: that God chooses women to take part in the plan to redeem all of humanity…and is inviting girls and boys on an adventure too.
"Fill the jars with water."
We filled our jars to the brim, then to overflowing. And, in the process, Jesus began refining us, transforming our work into worship. That perhaps was the real miracle.
“Then he told them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet. They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew” (John 2:8-9).
In the gospel narrative, the master of ceremonies is presented the miraculous wine. But only the servants know about the miracle. Only they know their labors were ordinary.
Similarly, Rachel and I know we were gifted with the Called and Courageous Girls series. In our core, we recognize this series gives credit to the One who receives our ordinary work and makes it sacred.
Because you and I aren’t called to do transformative work, but rather, to consecrate our commonplace, everyday tasks to the One who turns water into wine.
How is Jesus inviting you to be faithful today?
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When You’ve Never Been the Cool Girl But Are Chosen Anyway
Posted on Aug 28, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Stacey Thacker
I was never cool.
One of the first indications was a hairstyle I was convinced would prove otherwise in middle school. Lured by promise of looking just like one of Charlie’s Angels I asked my mom, my personal hair stylist, to cut my long hair. But this would not just be any haircut. I wanted my hair to “feather” on the sides. It was the definition of cool in the 1980’s. I believed that if my hair feathered, I would somehow transform magically into the cool girl at school. You see, I wanted my hair to look just like my friend Julie’s. I tried everything to look like her. It wasn’t meant to be I suppose. My hair had more of an awkward swoop with unfortunate curls compliments of an at-home permanent I also convinced my mom to give me.
It never did feather.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how my life isn’t so different than those days back in middle school. Maybe you can relate to these feelings as well:
Today, my insecurity seems to rise as I try to measure up to that same crowd. Only now it isn’t the hallway between classes. It looks more like Instagram and what all the other adorable women are posting online. I hear whispers in my head as I scroll that say, “Why are you even trying? You will never measure up to the 'Cool Kids.'”
Insecurity may keep you from trying, but fear of failure will probably cause you to work twice as hard to make sure no one sees you are struggling. What is worse than failing? Failing in front of others.
This feeling resurfaced again this past year in the middle of my forties. Who wants a weary woman, who looks tired, is busy raising four girls, and can’t quite keep her shopping list down to one trip per week?
Who wants that girl?
The Bible says, long ago, before God laid the foundations of the world, he was thinking about you (and me) and how much he loved us. In fact in the book of Ephesians, chapter three verse fifteen tells us that we were chosen and received our name from the Father, from whom “all families in heaven above and on earth below receive their names” (The Voice). He decided from the beginning of time to adopt us as his children through his only Son, Jesus, and to write his name over our hearts. Do you know how he felt about that? He delighted in doing so. His plan was for us to be part of his special family. Being part of his family brings with it blessings of untold worth, gifts we get to experience now and forever, and more importantly, access to our heavenly Father no one can hinder.
He whispers over my insecurities: blameless
He persists in telling me when I fear failure: free
He shouts over the voice that cries undesirable: chosen
Jesus wants that girl. Then and now.
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The Answer to the World’s Greatest Fear
Posted on Aug 23, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Dr. Neil T. Anderson
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid…” (Genesis 3:10)
The immediate emotional consequence of being separated from God was fear.
Why was Adam afraid?
There was nothing in the Garden of Eden to be afraid of. He had no neurological illness that needed medication. There were no learned phobias that had to be unlearned, or flesh patterns that had to be crucified.
There is only one explanation for his fear. He was separated from God. There is nothing more fearful than to be totally abandoned and utterly alone.
Throughout history people have been terrorized by the idea of impermanence. They have gone to extreme measures to overcome their mortality. Fanciful beliefs have been formulated by false religions to give them hope for an afterlife. Explorers have searched for the mystical Fountain of Youth. Scientists have experimented with drugs to stop the aging process. Some have turned to cryogenics hoping they can be resuscitated from their frozen state after a cure has been found for the disease that led to their death. Silicon Valley techies are trying to upload their consciousness to a computer. People attempt to alleviate their fears by saying someone is in a better place when they die, when there is often no basis for making such an assertion.
This primordial fear exists in all humanity, and there is only one antidote.
When Adam moved away from God he brought death, because sin had cut him off from the source of life. God in His great love and mercy sent Jesus to die for our sins, but He came to do much more than that (see Romans 5:8-11). He came to give us eternal life, which is not the same as the temporal life that defines our physical existence.
“Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, so that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14,15).
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God Loves to Use Weak People
Posted on Aug 21, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Ron Rhodes
Do you ever feel insignificant before God? Do you ever feel that you have little to offer God? Do you ever feel too spiritually weak to make much of a difference for the kingdom of God?
If so, I’ve got some good news for you. Scripture reveals that God loves to use weak people who may seem to have little to offer in themselves.
The apostle Paul taught a paradox based on his own experience: The weaker the human vessel, the greater that God’s strength shines forth (1 Corinthians 12:8). This means that we need not be dismayed by our personal weaknesses. They provide opportunity for God’s great power to work! Paul felt weak in himself. But God told him: “My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
As I was contemplating this important verse, I looked up a few cross references that really “turned on the lights” for me. Jesus urged His followers: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In like manner, the apostle Paul later affirmed: “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Don’t miss this important truth: We can do nothing apart from Christ, but we can do everything through Christ who strengthens us. The secret is to stay plugged into Jesus! He is our never-ending source of power and fruitfulness. His power shines through our weakness.
It’s no problem if you feel you have little to offer God. To illustrate, John 6:8-9 tells us that a little boy offered to the Lord what little food he had (five small loaves of bread and two fish), and the Lord multiplied it into enough food to feed 5,000 men and their families. The point is that you and I may sometimes feel that we don’t have much to offer God. But if you offer to God what little you have—your talents, your skills, your spiritual gifts, your time—God can turn these into something magnificent.
My friends, I urge you not to wait. Delay no further. Starting today, commit to keeping yourself “plugged in” to Jesus, and offer to Him what little you have. I promise you, He’ll use you if you give yourself to Him. He can do things in your life that you could not possibly even imagine. He is able, “through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Dare to believe that God can do it!
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What Unexpected Opportunities Does God Have in Store for You?
Posted on Aug 16, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Tami Dillon
Origin stories are all the rage these days in popular culture. Just look to your latest, blockbuster comic book movie. So, we were beyond thrilled to share how one of our wildest dreams of writing and publishing a cookbook became a reality!
It started when my mom, sister, and I organized one of those painting parties where an artist shows you how to paint the picture you pick. We decided to bring a snack as well and my mom offered to make some gluten-free desserts so I could enjoy with everyone else. My mom outdid herself for the party and brought two different desserts—one tried-and-true gluten-free treat and a second she’d never made before. Being our mom, it wasn’t hard to guess that she’d completely made up the second dessert based on whatever ingredients she had available. That’s one of her amazing talents: figuring out what goes together to make the most incredible things.
The guests we’d invited to the party didn’t know my mom’s hidden talent and were floored. By the end of the night everyone was raving about the Salted Caramel Shortbread and blown away that it was gluten-free. It turned out my mom had made so much that we sent some home with a few of the guests. From then on it was a requested dessert at just about any gathering. This dessert was eventually delighting enough people that when a local publisher was looking for authors to write a gluten-free cookbook, our names came up.
Honestly, we couldn’t believe it when we started working on this together. And we’re continually amazed at the opportunities God opened up from jumping into this adventure. Now that we’re at full circle, we hope you enjoy these amazing bar cookies as the Lord leads you to unexpected opportunities as well!
Salted Caramel Shortbread (serves 18 to 24)
[Bonnie, Tami's mom] Talk about a crowd-pleaser. People love this simple dessert. Even better, they're shocked to find out it is gluten-free. Instead of caramel apple dip, you could also make the caramel from scratch or unwrap 50 baking caramels and melt them over low heat with milk or cream. We like the dip for ease—and it tastes just as good.
2½ cups (5 sticks) butter, room temperature
1½ cups C&H Baker's Sugar
2¼ cups powdered sugar
3 T. vanilla
6 cups (750 grams) gluten-free 1-to-1 flour blend
1 (16 oz.) container caramel apple dip
1 T. coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment page.
Combine the butter, sugars, and vanilla, and then add the flour. Mix in one cup at a time. Once combined, press half the dough into the bottom of the cookie sheet. Place the remaining dough in the refrigerator. Bake the crust for 20 minutes or until pale brown. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Spread the caramel dip on top of the cooled crust and sprinkle with salt. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the caramel layer. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool before cutting into bars.
Note: The first time we made this recipe, we used a gluten-free baking mix, and it came out a little difficult to cut. Now we make it with a good 1-to-1 flour blend, which means it's formulated for baking to be an equal substitute to 1 cup of wheat flour. We like Bob's Red Mill products, but make sure you check the labels.
Are you looking for more gluten-free creations?
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Surprise! There’s More Than One Right Way
When I was 14, I volunteered as a Big Buddy for five-year-old Suzie, a cancer patient at the local hospital. One day Suzie declared, “I’m going to draw a tree!” and grabbed a purple crayon. Purple? I have no artistic talent whatsoever, but I know drawing a tree requires two colors, and neither one is purple.
Purple. Who ever heard of a purple tree? True to my Driver personality, I reached over, yanked the purple crayon out of her hand, found the brown crayon, and thrust it at her.
I saw my supervisor beckoning to me. She invited me to join her on the far side of the room, where she spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “What if we…let her draw a purple tree?”
I stared back at her. Let her draw a purple tree? Of all the audacious, impudent, bold ideas. We could let her draw a purple tree. Yes! Yes, as a matter of fact, we could.
I marched back across the room, snatched the brown crayon out of Suzie’s hand, and quickly replaced it with the original purple crayon, announcing victoriously, “You can draw a purple tree!”
For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that my way might not be the only way.
Did you know God offers a different right way?
God beckons us, inviting, "What if we..."
Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many… in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
(1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-21).
I’ve wasted decades and damaged many relationships living as if I, on my own, am the body. My attitudes and behaviors have said far more clearly than words, “I don’t need you!” to my husband, my children, my friends, and my students.
God wants us to expand our tunnel vision. To become open to others’ points of view. To recognize the value of their ideas, thoughts, and preferences. To actively seek their input rather than relying solely on our own perspectives.
God is clear: we do need each other.
So how do we right wrong priorities?
“I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but…” rolls so effortlessly off my tongue. The bumper stickers on my life proclaim, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” and “My way or the highway.” Learning to stop fixating on how I think things should be done and start opening up to other options has been a slow process.
If you’re struggling with the same tendencies, here are two simple (but not necessarily easy) choices you can make that can help you develop greater openness and become your own kind of brave:
- Seek Confirmation That You’re Doing the Right Things: When you can’t come up with good reasons for what you’re doing, it’s a red flag that you’re being driven by fear. The one core choice of becoming your own kind of brave reminds us that love wins over fear any day.
- Expand Your Definition of Doing Things Right: Letting go of control is hard. But in the core choice of becoming your own kind of brave, it’s right. practice openness with this new mindset: “I’d rather be happy with others than ‘right’ alone.”
Remember, you can choose happiness over being right every time. And you can start with prayer.
When faced with a conflict between being right and demonstrating respect in a relationship, seek guidance by praying, Am I focused on doing things right or doing the right things? and Am I insisting on being the entire body or am I doing my part? Then be open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and leading.
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For When Your Small Dreams CAN Bring Life to Others
Posted on Aug 09, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Lenya Heitzig
At Reload Love, the nonprofit I founded to impact the lives of children affected by terrorism, we had a dream to leave something tangible behind for the people of the communities we sought to help. That something became turning battlegrounds into playgrounds
We built our first playground on the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico as a way of helping children living in poverty in our home state before expanding to other countries. In Sinjar province, Iraq, we have built seven playgrounds. It might seem small, but it’s something.
On every playground is a banner with the word of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). On every playground, children return to something like normal life. On every playground, they swing, spin, slide, and every time they do, they forget, if only for an instant, the terror they have seen.
Sometimes people ask, “Why playgrounds? There are many needs. Why not food, water, or clothing?” I used to say, the ministry of presence, a break for mothers, playgrounds cannot contribute to a false economy, but now I’ve stood on these playgrounds watching traumatized children play and I’ve seen their worth.
Professionals say there are protocols to help children recover from trauma. I call it the CAN method. It doesn’t matter if the child has experienced trauma at the hands of a gang in Chicago, a family member in New Mexico, or an ISIS terrorist in Iraq. These steps help them recover as quickly and effectively as possible.
Calm. The child needs to rediscover safety and security, which is why we partner with organizations to create safe spaces. When kids are taken out of harm’s way, they need to feel safe, whether a classroom, a music room, or a playground. Playgrounds give children the opportunity to deescalate the terror they felt in their lives.
Acknowledgment. Give children validation that what happened to them actually happened and reinforce that it was not their fault. They didn’t create it. They aren’t the bad guys. Children need to understand that they do not deserve the terror and trauma and treatment they have experienced.
Normalcy. If children return to a state of normalcy, their hearts have a chance to heal, to return to something like the way they were before experiencing terror. Maybe it’s kicking a soccer ball. Maybe it’s cooking a meal. Whatever it is, returning to something normal helps them imagine something better for their life, now and in the future.
I know that CAN works. I used the steps with my own grandchildren after my son was in a motorcycle accident.
Calm: First I took control of myself and the situation as I helped my daughter-in-law load the children into my car. After their mother went to check on their father, I turned to the kids.
“Let’s pray,” I said because I didn’t know what else to do, and to acknowledge the problem.
Acknowledgment: I started praying and they were still crying, but then my grandson said, “I have an idea. Mimi, we’re going to pray and ask Jesus if Daddy is okay.”
So he prayed and after a short pause asked, “Mimi, what does ‘amen’ mean?”
“It means you agree with the prayer.”
“Okay, Mimi, say amen.”
“Amen,” I said.
Normalcy: We got to my house and did what we always did. We played in the hot tub. I tried to reintroduce normal life into that chaotic, scary situation.
Just as I helped my grandkids in trauma, playgrounds can help meet these need for children. Swings are soothing, rocking children the way they were rocked as a baby. If you don’t have your mother’s arms or are missing a family member, a swing is marvelous. The thrill of a slide can help you forget your pain, if only for a moment. Chasing your friends around the playground can reintroduce normalcy into your life.
CAN is the way forward for these children. Playgrounds can be part of the answer.
At one of our playgrounds in Sinjar city, I slowly drift back and forth on a swing. I feel like a little girl again. I look around and try to imagine this city alive again. I try to see the city through hopeful eyes. I imagine children on the swings, sliding down the slides. I imagine them seeing Jesus’ name for the first time.
At a stop at another playground in a refugee camp, the children come from every direction. They never stop coming, not while we sing, not while we tell Bible stories. Word radiates out through the camp, and they keep coming. They are still coming, even as we load the van and drive away. It is hard to leave, to give them what feels like so little.
Looking back through the square windows of the van, I see the playground, the children still chasing each other, and know we leave behind something greater: hope, and the name of Jesus.
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What to Do When Life’s Not Fair
Posted on Aug 07, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Tilly Dillehay
I do not like unfairness. I really don’t.
If things were up to me, I would have every baby born into the equivalent of a Monopoly game, with an identical collection of bills in incremental amounts:
- 500 units of relational security
- 100 units of brains
- 50 units of beauty
- 25 units of inherited wealth
- 10 units of diligence
- 5 units of creative ability
There you go! Out into the world with you, babies! Go enjoy a life in which no one has any advantage over you and you are never made to feel inferior to anyone else.
We are all preoccupied with fairness, to some degree. Children say it aloud (“that’s not fair!”), but adults think it, using different and more sophisticated words (“Wow! The Millers are in Sacramento this week! What is this, a vacation from all the vacations? Talk about first world problems…”).
We are comfortable complaining aloud about inequalities between minority and majority groups, or between impoverished cultures and western cultures. But what we don’t like to admit is that the inequality we get most hung up on is the inequality that exists between ourselves and those right next to us.
Our coworkers. Our siblings. Our friends. Our neighbors. When one of these people—our peers—pull ahead of us, in some area of life that we care about, this is when the inequality becomes truly unbearable.
But how can we talk about it? It’s not something we’re proud of, after all. A feeling of unhappiness over something good that happens to someone else? We may not have the right name for it, but we know it when we feel it, and we know that it is not a nice way to feel.
It’s called envy, as a matter of fact.
What we need to understand about envy is this: Envy is us finding fault with God's own decision about who gets what. It is rooted in ungratefulness, pride, and self-centeredness. We require more than what God had given; we experience pain because he has given what we want to someone else. We writhe in it. We find ourselves speaking a cutting word, or thinking a cutting thought. Our joy is stolen.
And in the end, only satisfied desire will bring us back to joy. Our desires are for glory—our own glory. And only glory will bring us back. God has promised that a different kind of glory is coming for us, and it is the hope of this glory that will shake us out of the obsession with who, on this earth, gets more than we get:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (1 Cor. 4:16-18).
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Do You Have a Hidden Superpower?
You have a superpower that can deepen your relationship with your kid, your family, and every person you meet.
You have the power to ask a question.
Did you just roll your eyes and mutter, “That’s it? What’s the big deal?” Well, that’s an excellent question! This one amazing superpower multiplies and gives you the ability to:
- connect with the kid who only mumbles or emojis her communication
- glimpse inside the heart and mind of a friend or stranger
- appreciate someone who differs from you
- know how to pray for someone
- practice the holy art of listening while someone shares their deepest self
Jesus was a master of asking questions to examine a person’s heart and make them think about belief, justice, and love. We can do the same as we pose questions to better “see” another’s universe-sized dreams, faith-fostering thoughts, seeds of ideas, and grandest hopes. Toss the “How are you?” “I’m fine” dialogue default so you can spark imaginations and authentic connections.
Use Your Superpower for Good
Try it with your kids. Here are five fun offerings to get you started:
How has God created you to be a person who can make the world a better place?
Your class is ready and waiting. What are you teaching?
What do you want your parents to understand about you?
Are you a poem, a book, a riddle, or a song…how so?
If you could go back in time, which Bible event would you want to experience? Why?
Open-ended questions like these are no small thing. They welcome possibility, truth, and discovery.
Sadly, many children who initially pepper teachers and parents with non-stop “What if…” and “How come…” inquiries will eventually clam up. It’s at the point they stop learning. Or stop caring. Or worse—both. A few years ago, a Newsweek article entitled The Creativity Crisis shed light on an emerging problem among young learners:
By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions. (Newsweek, July 10, 2010)
Your desire to hear the what’s what of a young person’s mind gives them the gift of being known and the invitation to express their superpower of asking questions and staying engaged. They will learn to express ideas, find joy in conundrums, and bond over the fruit of critical and creative thinking.
Whatever age your child is, take time to resurrect and nurture this ability. It will change your relationship. It will change their life.
Embrace your superpower and take it for a spin. Use it to start something amazing—like a conversation with someone you love.
How might this new habit change the world?
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When It Doesn’t Seem Like God is Answering Your Prayers
“Mommy, why isn’t God answering my prayers?”
I turned and looked deeply into my child’s sad eyes. My daughter wasn’t being accusatory. Her soft voice revealed her hurt. She felt God was ignoring her.
Do You Ever Feel Like God is Ignoring You?
You’re doing every right that you know to do. You go to church, read your Bible, and pray. You try to be kind to people. So, why isn’t God answering your prayers? You try to be a good Christian and serve Him, but without the longed for answers to prayers it seems others receive from God.
Why Isn’t God Answering Your Prayers?
“Lauren, come here.” Slowly, my daughter made her way to me. “Sit down beside me.”
Opening my prayer journal, I turned to the Week at a Glance section and pointed to her name at the top of the column of the prior week. “Look here,” I pointed, encouraging her to read a prayer request that I’d highlighted when the prayer was answered. I turned to the prior week. “Look here.” Again I directed her to the yellow highlighted answered prayer request under her name. Thumbing through my journal, I encouraged her, “God is answering your prayers.”
Recognizing God’s Answers in a Book of Remembrance
In those moments I watched Lauren’s countenance change from dejection to joy. Her Heavenly Father hadn’t ignored her. He wasn’t withholding good things from her. He was involved in her life and answering her prayers. She’d simply forgotten. I assured her we’d continue to pray over unanswered prayers, keeping in mind that in God’s wisdom, His answers and timing may be different from ours.
It’s Easy to Forget, but It Can Become Easy to Remember if We Journal
In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to forget the many times we call on God. We may shoot quick “arrow” prayers heavenward as we dash to work. We may drift to sleep while praying for family and friends. While we work and while we sleep, our Heavenly Father is moving on our behalf. It’s easy to forget all the prayers we pray and His answers. It becomes easy to remember if we record our prayers and His answers in a journal. Journaling has major benefits in addition to the joy of seeing God move in our life and in the lives of those for whom we pray. It answers the question, “Why isn’t God answering our prayers?” He is.
God has a book of remembrance. “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” (Malachi 3:16 ESV)
Isn't it time we journal our prayers and His answers in a book of remembrance?
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Eight Tried-and-True Steps to Cultivate a Happy Marriage
Over the years, my husband, Steve and I have learned from other couples what it takes to have a happy marriage. Here are eight practical ways you can cultivate happiness in a lasting marriage:
1. Have Realistic Expectations
One reason people become unhappy with their marriage is because the relationship doesn’t turn out to be all they expected. Did you think your husband would be the answer to all your hopes for happily-ever-after? If so, at some point you came to realize you had married a normal human being and not the Prince Charming you imagined him to be.
The sooner you realize you and your husband are both imperfect people, the better you will be prepared to cover with grace the times you let one another down.
2. Realize It's OK to Be Different
You don’t have to be married for too long to discover your husband is not like you. Couple often attempt to define unity in marriage as “sameness.” But unity isn’t sameness.
Unity in marriage does not mean you have to see eye to eye with your husband on every detail of life. In his book What Did You Expect? author Paul David Tripp says, “Unity is, rather, the result of what husband and wife do in the face of inevitable differences.”
3. Think the Best About Your Husband
Remind yourself regularly of the qualities you love about your husband. And resist the temptation to compare him to the “ideal husband” you dream of having. Wouldn’t you want your husband to do the same for you?
Even with deliberate effort toward resisting the temptation to compare, married couples often lean toward viewing one another through a negative lens. If thinking the best about each other is not yet a habit within your marriage, someone has to take the first step. Let that someone be you.
4. Be Kind to One Another
Are you kind? It’s easy to be kind to people you only see for a few minutes each day. But in general, do you have a kind disposition? Is kindness your default mode, or do you have to force yourself not to lash out when you are offended? Does your husband think you are kind?
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind one to another.” This is a command, not a suggestion. And yet wouldn’t you agree there are times that being kind is not the easiest response? And if you have little ones at home, lack of sleep alone can have a negative influence upon your attempts to remain kind.
Whatever the situation or your circumstances, if you make an extra effort to be kind to your husband now, you will enjoy the benefit of a happier marriage as time goes on.
5. Refuse to Fantasize About Being Married to Someone Else
A major threat to a happy marriage is the temptation to believe you married the wrong person.
When times get hard—and they will—allowing yourself to daydream about what it would be like to escape the hardship will only invite trouble into your marriage. If you are looking up old boyfriends or dreaming about what life would be like if you were married to a different man, you are already in the process of undermining the foundation of your marriage.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the story of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand (Matthew 7:26-27). Building your hopes for a happy marriage with someone other than your husband is certainly foolish. And when the storms of life come, your house will come crashing down around you.
6. Remember, You're On the Same Team
In times of strife, remind yourself that your husband is not your enemy. Your real adversary is the devil. The enemy is fully aware of the devastating effects of a broken marriage. The Bible instructs us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
When you realize Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, you will know that it’s the tempter who is your enemy, not your husband, and you’ll be ready to stand together in the fight against your foe.
7. Love Christ More Than You Love Your Husband
I cannot stress enough this key principle: when you determine to grow more deeply in love with Christ, you will find your worth in your relationship to Him. When this happens, you will not look to your husband to meet the needs only God can fill. When you live to love Jesus, His love for your husband will spill out of your heart. And your heart will become joyfully satisfied with your husband.
8. Determine That Divorce Will Never Be an Option
If ever you think leaving your marriage is the answer to your problems, remind yourself: wherever you go, there you are. This means whatever struggles you may be having, realize you are half of the problem. If you choose to leave a difficult marriage, you can be certain you’ll take all your unresolved issues into your next relationship as well.
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How Well Do You Serve?
But Jesus called them together and said, You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant...
Matthew 20:25-26 NLT
These wise words from Jesus remind me of the lessons my parents taught me. They were a great example of what it meant to live a life of service and helping others.
Growing up, our home was frequently filled with people. Almost every weekend, my parents would invite children from a nearby girls’ home to stay with us. These girls were treated no differently than if they were my sisters, as my parents warmly welcomed and included them in our everyday lives and activities.
Jesus’ statement in Matthew came during a discussion He was having with His disciples about leadership. They were inquiring about how they could get promoted up the ladder of authority in his organization. In fact, two of the disciples, James and John, had asked for the positions of second in command in the Kingdom.
Jesus responded by telling them that in the Kingdom of God, greatness is defined by how well we serve and by how much we help others.
This is certainly a contrast to what we hear in most parts of our society today. We typically look at our leaders and judge them by how many people they're responsible for, by how much influence they have, and by the decisions they make. Whether it's a CEO leading a business, a teacher leading a classroom, or a mother leading a family, we tend to judge them by how confident they look and by how much control they exert over the people following them.
Isn’t it wonderful to hear Jesus speak and realize that He doesn't want us to do things the way the world around us does? In this case, He wants us to do just the opposite. Jesus says that those of us who are the real heroes, the ones He values most, are the people who help others.
My parents didn’t reach out to those young women for recognition or to earn some type of award. They did it out of a heartfelt desire to serve, and in doing so, modeled those values to me and my siblings.
Because of my parents’ example, giving back is now a way of life for me. My husband, Tony, and I choose to be involved with Title I schools. We visit with children, read to them, encourage them, and inspire them to dream.
Our hope is that our children will also develop a heart for serving others, following our lead, the legacy of my parents, and ultimately, Jesus’ desire for their lives.
My prayer is that you and your family will find a way to serve no matter how big or small. And, when you do, know that Jesus would say you are one of the leaders in His kingdom—the Kingdom of Heaven.
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Have You Forgotten How to Play?
My younger sister, June, and I arrived at camp, set up my tent, laid out our gear, and trudged up a hill to see what was on the other side. I pulled out my camera and snapped pictures till the sun set. June plopped on the ground and took in a few ragged breaths. This was clearly not her idea of having fun. But then, as she admitted, she didn’t have any ideas what fun was. That’s why she’d appealed to me for help.
As a university professor, author, and lecturer, June rarely closed the classroom door behind her. I had to tug her sleeve a few times before she got with the program. But she did, and for two days we had a good time trail walking, picking wild flowers, and lounging in our chairs while sipping iced tea.
On the third day, we packed our belongings and headed down the mountain road, happy, satisfied, and ready to relive the experience again. Well, I was, but June not so much. Once was fun. Twice would be work. And she begged off repeating the experience by referring to her advanced age of 60!
“Play is perceived as unproductive, petty, or even a guilty pleasure,” according to Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, associate editor of World of Psychology. “Our society tends to dismiss play for adults,” she says. The notion is that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play.
“But play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids. Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem-solving, creativity, and relationships.” These are fine words from the world of psychology, but I was curious about what the Bible says on the topics of joy and play.
James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). It seems clear that fun, play, and rest are among God’s “every good and perfect gift from above.”
Play as You Wish
There are so many ways to play. Sewing, card games, sports, collecting stamps, or dolls may be one person’s idea of relaxation but the last thing someone else would even consider. My friend Lisa spends her evenings knitting. She has fun choosing patterns and then giving away some of her creative pieces.
Doug and Sherry play Ping-Pong.
My son enjoys a game of pool.
Jane and Dave walk their dogs at the beach and play Frisbee on the sand.
If you’re up for fun, you can find it countless ways with a variety of people who share your interests. Square dancing, woodworking, beach volleyball, and collecting shells are just a few of the ways you can enjoy a playdate.
If you’re the more sedentary type, find enjoyable activities to do close to home. Visit art galleries and museums, grow flowers and vegetables, join a music appreciation club in your community.
Let’s give thanks to God for dancing, and singing, and camping, and hiking, and reading good books, and attending great concerts, and traveling to new places. And, of course, laughing all the way!
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How Our Bodies Will Be Raised in Glory
The Bible contrasts the experience we all now know in our failing bodies with the future reality we will know in our resurrected bodies. Scripture reveals four radical distinctions between the bodies we have now and the ones that we will have as we enter the New Jerusalem.
Someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person!…What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:35-36, 42-44).
1. They Will Be Ageless
The word “perishable” in verse 42 reminds me of bananas. I like to eat a banana every day. The problem is, I am one of those people who likes them only when they are “just right.” I don’t like them green. But I also don’t like them even the slightest bit overripe. It seems to me bananas are “just right” for only about three or four hours. Why? Because they are perishable—really perishable! And it seems they start perishing the minute after they fully ripen.
I hate to compare our bodies to a perishing banana. But I think most of us can agree the prime of life passes quickly and our fallen bodies get “mushy” before we know it. God’s promise is that the perfectly remanufactured bodies he will craft for us will be imperishable. How fantastic to imagine possessing a perfected anatomy that is impervious to disease, decay, aging, and any sort of deterioration or physical decline.
Praise God, our aches and pains, aging and diseases will be no more.
2. They Will Be Beautiful
It would make sense that imperishable bodies will be beautiful. The word used in 1 Corinthians 15:43 to describe our future bodies is “glory.” This was the same word Jesus used when he spoke to crowds who were concerned about how they looked due to the quality and beauty of their clothing. He pointed them to the lilies of the field and said, “I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:29). We can be sure that the richest king in the Bible possessed the finest royal robes money could buy. Certainly he took pains to look regal, important, and handsome, presenting himself in a manner that befits monarchs. But Jesus said that the flowers of the field are even more glorious, even better looking.
When the Bible says that our resurrected bodies will be “raised in glory,” we get a sense that we can anticipate a physical appearance that is stunning, resplendent, and glorious.
3. They Will Be Tireless
Next, we are told in 1 Corinthians 15 that though our current bodies are characterized by weakness, our reconstructed bodies will be raised in power. The Bible often reminds us that our bodies are weak, prone to fatigue, and often uncooperative when we go about our lives.
Even when we have strong intentions of doing something good, our bodies are so often obstinate in their weakness. Jesus said as much to the disciples in the garden, who were told to stay awake and pray with Christ in his most distressing hour. Yet, as the Bible states, “their eyes were heavy” and they failed to watch and pray (Matthew 26:43). Their intentions were good, and I am sure they purposed to meet the need. But like us, even when the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38).
Thankfully, one day all that will be a thing of the past. God has promised that our resurrected bodies will be characterized by “power.”
4. They Will Want to Do Right
When it comes to doing right, we are not used to our body being an ally. It often acts as an enemy. It is a “fallen body,” we often say, because it has a propensity for doing the wrong thing. Not only does our body lack strength, but so often it is energized by what is sinful.
Temptation so often ignites our flesh and it is drawn to do what we know is unrighteous. For the Christian, this is a constant frustration. Peter said the passions of our flesh wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). We are told that our resurrected bodies will no longer be “natural.” Rather, they will be “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:44).
It is important to understand the word “spiritual” the same way we do in Galatians 6, where Paul wrote that “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (verse 1). When we read the word “spiritual,” we think godly, devout, and mature. So when the Bible says that our future bodies will be “spiritual,” we should breathe a sigh of relief. It means there is coming a day when we will no longer battle our fleshly inclinations to do wrong.
Imagine every fight with temptation that is currently fueled by your fallen flesh. It will be gone! That is good news, and something you and I should eagerly anticipate.
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How Big is Your Faith?
Posted on Jul 12, 2018 Topic : Inspirational/Devotional
Posted by : Wendy Dunham
While deciding on a topic to write about, the idea of a mustard seed made its way to the writer’s part of my brain. And after making itself at home for several days, it was clear it had no intention of leaving. Given my years of writing, I’ve learned that when a topic reaches out to an author, that is the very thing that must be written. Knowing that, I purchased a container of mustard seeds and placed one seed in my hand. It always helps to have a visual.
While holding that mustard seed, I thought, what could be said of one little seed? Before long the words mustard seed led to the word mustard and brought images of baseball stadium hotdogs covered with waves of yellow mustard dripping from my fingers. But after reading about this tiny seed, I realized there was more. I discovered that one tiny seed, just one to two millimeters (0.039-0.079 inch) in size, holds the power to reap great dividends not only in our health, but in our spiritual journey as well.
I learned that the mustard plant, originating in the Middle East, has been used since earlier times in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and detoxification of the body. And today mustard seeds are known to contain more than 80 nutrients. Some of the health benefits include the prevention of cancer, the treatment of psoriasis, contact dermatitis, and cardiovascular problems, and help in relieving respiratory ailments and stiff muscles and painful joints.
I was astonished.
Faith Like a Mustard Seed
I also learned that in Jesus’s day, the mustard seed was known as the smallest seed. In Matthew 17:20 (nlt), Jesus uses this seed in a parable. “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from her to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
As I thought about that verse, I imagined a situation where someone asks me if I have faith. And because I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years, my first response would likely be a confident, “Yes, of course, I have faith. I’ve been a Christian for a long time.” But as I thought more, I was faced with the humbling reality that my faith is really quite small…maybe just one to two millimeters in size—the size of a mustard seed. But our Jesus is a truth speaker, and he says that is big enough.
What Are Your Mountains?
I thought about the mountains I am facing in my own life, the mountains in the lives of my friends and family, and in the lives of people I’ve never met. Mountains that seem insurmountable or too difficult to move. Mountains of uncertain health problems. Mountains of financial problems. Mountains of relationship problems. Mountains of regret. We do everything we can to move them and everything we can to climb over them. We use every ounce of energy we have. We pray big prayers. We ask for more faith. We may even be criticized by some for not having enough. But the bottom line is that these mountains are too big for us to move by our own strength.
Still holding that same tiny seed, I drop to my knees and make my way to Jesus. As I relinquish the seed, I watch it disappear in the dust and dirt that surround two worn, calloused feet, which have climbed more mountains that I can fathom.
There is nothing left for me to do. There’s no need for me to become breathless while trying to climb my mountains. There’s no need for me to lean against them, pushing and shoving with every ounce of strength I have. I simply need to rest.
Two strong hands reach down and pull me to my feet. Oh, what comfort is found in that tiny seed. What peace is gained when it’s dropped at the feet of Jesus. It is the comfort of two sacred arms wrapped around me while the Prince of Peace gently kisses the top of my head and whispers, “My child, I created every mountain. I strategically placed them across the continents. And I strategically placed them in your life.” After several moments, his nail-scarred hand wipes a stream of tears from my cheek. “And if I created them,” he adds, “surely I can move them.”
I rest in his arms. In his comfort. In his peace. And in his strength, which is strong enough to move mountains. Even mine.
Teach your child simple faith lessons with these two new adventures from Wendy's series for young readers, Tales of Buttercup Grove.
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You Really Can Ask for Anything
Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.
Some parts of the Bible are simply more difficult to believe than others.
And I think John 15:7 is certainly a challenge. Strangely, in many ways I think we find it more difficult than even miraculous accounts like Lazarus coming back from the dead at the command of Jesus (in John 11).
Perhaps it’s easier for us to imagine there was a special time very long ago and very far away where dead bodies could come back to life, a man could walk on water, and lunch for 5,000 could spring into existence from a handful of loaves and fishes. Maybe these miracles in the pages of the Bible are easier for us to believe because they are not touching our lives in a palpable way.
But this promise about prayer in John 15:7 is different. It leaps out of the ancient text and challenges our faith where we live right now. It is truly an amazing promise that is very difficult to brush aside as something only meaningful to ancient Bible characters. Jesus was speaking not only to his closest followers at the moment, but to all generations of Christians that would follow—including us today.
I remember the moment I was reading this passage when it really caught my attention. I wondered if Jesus could possibly mean what he was saying or if it was just too good to be true. So many of us don’t take this promise seriously. And I wondered why. That’s when I decided to really dig in, and I found that Jesus said it, and he really meant it. As I looked into this verse, I found that apprehending this promise in its proper context and overcoming the objections has been one of the most fruitful endeavors in my Christian life.
Here’s what I learned:
- It is a conditional promise. Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” But I make the case that most Christians I know fulfill this condition and hence ought to expect the result.
- I often hear “we need to be careful with verses like John 15:7 because it is sometimes abused by ‘word-faith’ or ‘prosperity’ preachers who have wandered into heresy.” Although this is true, my response is that I’m not going to let those who might abuse this passage rob me of gleaning the wonderful promise that the Lord himself had in store for us.
- We often find this promise difficult because we are immersed in a culture that simply does not think supernatural things (like answers to prayer) happen. This affects us all—no matter how spiritual we are. But the Lord can help us overcome it.
- There is an important context to this passage. Jesus speaks this promise in context of giving his famous “vine and branches” discourse. The thrust of the whole passage is about being plugged into Jesus (the vine) and bearing his fruit for his kingdom.
The conclusion, then, is this: if you are abiding in him, and his words are abiding in you and you want to serve him and bear his fruit, then you truly can ask for anything and it will be done for you! Just as John 15:7 tells us.
My hope is that as you put this promise into practice into your own life that you, too, will discover, as I have, that this verse sets up conditions that are perfectly designed to keep us plugged into Jesus. God is prepared to do amazing things in and through us, big and small, if we trust him and know in our minds and hearts that he can deliver whatever we ask for in prayer.
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Help Your Child Discover the Secret Formula for Wisdom
God's wisdom is available to all of us, young or old. Share this post with your kids and encourage them to seek God as the ultimate source of knowledge and understanding.
What do you think of when you hear the word “wisdom”? We tend to think of people being wise only if they’re really old or have done a ton of schooling. But wisdom is actually available to all of us.
The Bible tells us what wisdom is. We are wise when we accurately apply God’s Word to the situations we deal with in life. Everything we need to know to live a life of wisdom can be found in the pages of the Bible.
If someone told you there was a secret formula for getting straight A’s in school, would you want to know what it was? Of course you would!
God has given us a secret formula for getting wisdom. Are you ready for it?
Knowledge + Understanding = Wisdom
Have you ever been talking to someone when suddenly, halfway through the conversation, you get some new information that totally changes the way you think about what’s going on? Maybe a friend is telling you a story about something that happened, and once you get the new information, you are able to understand what happened in a new way. Or the reason someone did something or said something totally makes sense now. It’s like viewing a picture that suddenly comes into focus. “Oh, I get it!” you say. “Now that makes sense!”
When you don’t know exactly what is going on—when you don’t have the knowledge—you don’t have wisdom. Without knowledge, you don’t completely get what is going on. And if you don’t get what is going on, you might be tempted to think or say or do the wrong thing.
God tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). That’s why you need to get all the information you can before you make a decision or respond to a situation. And you get that information from God’s truth.
Have you ever just known that something is true or that someone is right? That’s the kind of knowledge we’re talking about here. You can count on it. It’s been proven to be true. There’s no room for doubt. When you start with God, you can be sure that your information is accurate. You can be certain that you have knowledge.
The second part of the secret formula for wisdom is understanding. Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is supreme—so get wisdom. And whatever else you get, get understanding.” Knowledge has to do with information, but understanding has to do with the meaning of the information. When you are able to combine knowledge and understanding together, you end up with wisdom.
Think back to the conversation with your friend. The story your friend told you was a little bit confusing before you got more information—the knowledge. But you can only understand the story if you know stuff about your friend and the situation and maybe the other people involved. And to understand something, you have to want to understand it. You have to make an effort.
One more thing: Wisdom is more than being smart. You can get straight A’s and still act foolishly. Wisdom is being able to actually use God’s words of truth when you’re with your friends or family, in school or at your activities—wherever you find yourself in life. Wisdom is making the best choice, the one that will bring about the best result for everyone involved. Wisdom is doing what Jesus would want you to do.
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For When Life Feels Hard And You Need a Helper
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
Psalm 121:1-4 niv
Where is your heart today? Are you overwhelmed? Frustrated? Discouraged? Do you need the reminder that God is your help? The One who created every living thing, who placed the moon and the stars in the heavens, not only knows your name, but He loves you. And He comes to your rescue as your helper, if you just ask.
Look back at the passage above. What is the one thing the Psalmist does? In the very first verse, he says, “I lift up my eyes.” Everything else is what God does for us, how He helps us. He will not let your foot slip. He watches over you and is always ready to help. We need only to keep our eyes focused on Him. When you are in distress, call out to Him for help, and He will hear you.
Often, we remember King David as a mighty warrior, a forgiven man with a heart after God. Yet, it was David who was hunted down by King Saul, who wanted to destroy the next king of Israel. In Psalm 18, we get a glimpse into David’s heart. He intentionally shifts his focus from the “cords of death” and “torrents of destruction” to the One who “arms me with strength.”
The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.
Psalm 18:4-6; 32-33; 36 niv
God doesn’t lift us off the character-shaping mountains in our lives. He offers His help, strength, and power for us to endure the struggles before us. He empowers us, making us sure-footed like the deer and providing a broad path on which we can walk safely. Our heavenly Father doesn’t pluck us out of the ordeal. He guides and protects us as we learn and grow every step of the way. In fact, it’s when we acknowledge that we need His help that we are at our strongest, because we allow Him to work through us. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “… For when I am weak, then I am strong” (niv).
Oh, Lord, we praise You for providing help when we feel overwhelmed, unsure, and shaky. When we call on Your holy name, You straighten our path, secure our steps and empower us through our weaknesses. You help us look past the mountains in front of us onto You our Helper, who uses every obstacle to strengthen us and grow our character. How amazing it is that the Creator of the universe loves us and helps. Oh how we praise You, Lord!
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Learn to Rest in Your True Purpose
My soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5
I’ve been running a bit ragged lately and thinking that maybe I resist rest because I resist not being in control.
I convince myself that my plans and dreams will fall apart if I’m not working around the clock to protect and prove them…to propel them forward.
Staying ahead of the game in self-preservation has become such a normal pace in our lives that I think my heart’s forgotten that it isn’t what I was created for.
John Piper said, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God.”
I was created to rely on Him, to trust in Him, to run out of steam, to find myself incapable of doing it all.
Unless God builds it, unless He’s in it, all the laboring is in vain.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:1-2).
God has made us to grow weary, to call it quits in our laboring, and to rest.
If you feel worn out, friend, it’s a pretty good indication that our infinite God made you finite for a purpose. He is reminding you that resting isn’t just a good idea—it’s His example and standard for us.
Our all-powerful God does not grow weary, and yet He chose to rest on the seventh day of creation.
But I’m finding that it’s so much more than a day of the week or a scheduling choice. To rest is to cease striving, to be restored and refreshed. It is ultimately a physical picture of what we are called to spiritually.
The cross of Christ didn’t simply make it possible for us to take some time off from the burden of sin and death; it purchased for us true rest from its weight of shame continually.
In Christ, we can rest from our laboring in self-preservation and self-righteousness, and put our trust in a Savior who is “before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Take a deep breath and allow yourself to rest.
There is no significance, hope, or value you can strive for and gain for yourself that hasn’t already been made fully available to those who rest in Him.
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What Your Daughter Needs to Know About Faithfulness
Being faithful in our walk with Christ is a good reminder for adults and kids alike. Share this excerpt with your daughter from God's Girl Says Yes and encourage her to be faithful to Him, no matter what.
“I know the plans that I have for you.” This message is from the Lord. “I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future” (Jeremiah 29:11 ERV).
I love reading this verse because it reminds me that God has good plans for us. But did you know that when God first gave this message to His people, the Israelites, a lot of not-so-good things were happening?
During this time, the Israelites were exiles living where they did not want to live. They had been forced to leave their home in Jerusalem and were being held captive in Babylon, a place that was nothing like their home. Furthermore, the Israelites were not always treated well by the Babylonians.
From the Israelites’ point of view, it sure didn’t look like God had a plan—especially not a good plan. But He did. God wanted His people to learn to trust Him even though they were going through difficult circumstances.
He even told them to pray for the people around them and to serve and help in the city where they were forced to live. (You may know how hard it is to pray for people who are mean to you!) In other words, God wanted the Israelites to remember their relationship with Him even when they couldn’t see good things happening around them. God wanted His people to be faithful to Him even when life was hard and His ways were puzzling.
God wants us to be faithful too. He wants our relationship with Him to be the most important thing in our lives even when nothing around us seems good.
When everything in life is going well and we’re feeling happy, it’s a little easier to trust that God has a good plan for us. However, when things are hard and we’re sad or frustrated or worried, we can forget or even stop believing that God actually has a good plan for us. When people are being mean to us, when we can’t seem to get good grades, or when we don’t think our parents understand, it becomes really tempting to stop trusting God and instead take charge of our lives. But God wants us to continue to trust Him and to continue to follow Him… because He has a plan.
As the plan unfolds mysteriously and sometimes slowly, remember that God always wants you to talk to Him and to ask Him for any help you need. Even though God has good plans for you, your life will sometimes be hard. Realize that God uses every situation—the good ones as well as the not-so-great ones and the totally hard times too—in His good plan for your life.
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Leading Your Kids in Prayer is Simple. Here’s How…
My favorite definition of a leader is this: A leader is someone who goes first.
I like it because it’s simple, it’s practical, and it makes leadership achievable. Something anyone can do who is willing to get out there, give it a try, and learn from their mistakes.
The people who follow find direction and courage in the steps of the leader. Sometimes they get a good laugh watching the leader make colossal blunders. Hopefully, the leader laughs too.
Leading in prayer can be like that. Some people talk about being mighty prayer warriors, persevering through adversity with white-hot zeal until they overcome the forces of darkness and receive from God the things they carry on their hearts.
I admire those people, but I’m not one of them. I’m more like the colossal blunderer.
But I can do this: I can go first. Most nights when my kids were little, after they brushed their teeth, after we read books and sang songs and snuggled in the big chair, I would finally (finally!) tuck each one in his or her bed, silently smooth their hair for a few seconds, and then close my eyes and say, “Dear Jesus…”
What came next was seldom impressive. In fact, it was usually so simple, so elementary, the kids could pretty much have said the same thing themselves. Sometimes they did.
And that’s the point. I went first, bumbling along, and they followed. They learned about…
- Repentance. I apologized to God (it was never hard to think of a reason), and I thanked him for forgiving me and helping me to learn from my mistakes. My kids understood that our failures aren’t the end of the world—for God or for us.
- Requests. I told God I trusted him to give us the things we need, and my kids grew up with a sense that good things are worth waiting for.
- Thanks. I recounted my day, telling God how glad I was he was in all of it, and my kids began to see God in their day too.
My part took about twenty or thirty seconds, and then it was the child’s turn. Some of the words I used showed up in their prayers too (because that’s what happens when someone leads). Some of the feelings that leaked out of me seeped out of their hearts as well. And some of the deep mysteries of God—that He likes us, that He is good, that He is always with us—began guiding their prayers, just as they guided mine.
Those times became less frequent as the kids grew older (I didn’t have the energy to stay up as late as they did). But our well-established habit of keeping our prayers simple and honest and real continues today.
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When it Comes to Prayer, Why Wait?
Have you done this too? During a conversation, a friend or acquaintance shares some challenge they’re facing. A situation at work. A sick kid. A rough patch in a marriage. A family member going through a crisis. A wayward teen. A personal spiritual desert. Something that could use some serious intervention from the Creator of the universe. Because I believe in the power of prayer, I would say, “I’ll pray for you.”
Then I would break that promise.
It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t a lie. So why didn’t I pray? Maybe I got distracted by a personal emergency. Maybe that promise to pray got sidetracked by an even bigger prayer request. Maybe I was being a little selfish because I have a tendency to think more about myself than about others as I move through the day. But really I meant to pray, I wanted to pray, and sometimes I did remember to pray. But not as often I wanted. As I said, way too frequently I would fail to keep my promise.
You may be nodding your head because you’ve done the same thing, so let’s consider a few strategies we could use to fix this obvious shortcoming. How about pulling out a notebook from a pocket, purse, or briefcase and jotting down the name, date, and prayer request? Then make it a point to go through that list once a day or several times a week.
Another option would be to pull out your smartphone right then and there and use one of the prayer apps that help you track your prayers and remind you to pray. Apps like PrayerMate, Echo, Pray with Me, Prayer Notebook, or Prayer Journal. Some of those apps include a verse or short teaching of the day, updates from missional organizations, the ability to track answered prayer, and the ability to forward prayer requests through Twitter, Facebook, and so on.
One possible strategy would be to spend intentional time at the end of every day recalling all your personal interactions. That would include waving at your neighbor, tickling your toddler, talking to Mom on the phone, texting your BFF, yelling at that referee, cursing the driver in the giant SUV, walking quickly past the panhandler, kissing your spouse, giving an ultimatum to your teenager, reading about the president in a news magazine, talking with your old work colleague, and tipping that barista who was obviously having a bad day. Some or all of those individuals need your prayer.
In one sense, all you have to do is say, “Heavenly Father, everyone I met today—please draw each one them close to you. Amen.” He knows their exact needs, and he will honor your prayers. But there’s something satisfying about submitting our specific, thoughtful requests to an all-powerful, all-knowing God. He wants us to dig deep into our own heart and be fully aware of the needs of others. Prayers need to be grounded in devotion, humility, and sincerity.
Making scribbled or digital notes requires you to take immediate action by pulling out your phone or journal. Making a nightly “needs review” requires you to think about every twist and turn of your day, and you’ll inevitably miss someone or some need.
Every sincere prayer strategy is valid, but the best plan of action might be to pray right then and there. Why wait? You can certainly still put any need on your prayer list. And you can still review your day as you slip into bed. But praying in the moment invites God’s intervention that much sooner.
As you pass that friendly neighbor, pray for him. As you kiss your spouse, pray for your marriage. As you curse the gal who cut you off in traffic, pray for her…and yourself. Pray for that grumpy barista as you take your first sip of coffee. Pray for your children during every interaction. When your old work chum talks about the mess he’s made of his life, ask right then and there, “Can I pray for you?” He will say, “Umm…sure.” And then take it to God. In that moment, you’ll know what to say, and your friend will have joined with you in that prayer as well.
Of course, you don’t have to pause to pray. Prayer should be an ongoing component of every moment of the day. The idea is confirmed in that seemingly impossible command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing” (nasb). But really, it is quite doable because we’re in constant connection with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Make sense?
Pray right then and there.
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Could a Wedding Save Your Life?
“Honey, I feel lousy,” J.J. Fisher said to Cherice, his wife of 50 years.
“Do you think you’ll be all right to go to Tiana’s wedding?” Cherice asked.
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” J.J. responded emphatically.
J.J. lay down, closed his eyes, and drifted off into a restless sleep for the next two hours.
“J.J., I tried to let you rest for as long as possible,” Cherice said. “But it’s time to get up and get ready for the wedding if you still want to go.”
“I’m going to stay home and rest. You go ahead without me.”
Cherice and J.J.’s daughter, Jasmine, immediately grew alarmed. “Now, Dad,” Jasmine said, “I’ll make you a deal. Come with us. If you feel at any point that it’s too much, I promise to drive you home.”
“Okay, okay. Just give me a few minutes to get dressed.”
After the wedding, Jasmine drove her parents to the reception. “Are you feeling any better, Dad?”
“Well, I truly wish I could say I was feeling better, but I just don’t feel right.”
“Do you want to go to the hospital? Should we call for an ambulance?” Cherice asked.
“No, no. It hasn’t gotten to that point yet,” he answered.
“Do you promise to tell us if it does get to that point?”
“Yes, I promise,” he said, trying his best to muster up a smile.
After the salad was served, the band began playing a slow number. Normally, J.J. jumped at the chance to dance with his wife. But today his body was simply not up to it. He felt beads of cold sweat erupt on his forehead, and he started getting a tight feeling in his chest. He turned and tapped his wife on the forearm. “Honey, do you remember when I promised I would tell you if I need an ambulance?” he asked.
“Yes,” Cherice replied with alarm. “J.J., what’s wrong?”
“Call 911,” he replied, before slumping forward in his chair and surrendering to a world of darkness.
Gary Meyers and I piled into the back of the ambulance. “Andrea, grab the defibrillator in case we need it,” Gary suggested to me as we pulled up at the scene.
“Our patient is a seventy-one-year-old named J.J. Fisher,” he explained. “Family reports that he hasn’t been feeling well all day. He collapsed a few minutes ago.”
I attached the defibrillator electrodes to Mr. Fisher, placing one pad on his upper right chest just below his clavicle, and the other pad on his lower left ribcage.
Jasmine looked terrified. “Oh, Mom, what are we going to do?”
“Pray,” I heard Mrs. Fisher whisper to her daughter. “We’re going to pray.”
“Everyone clear,” I directed, waving my arm over Mr. Fisher’s body to make sure that no one touched the patient lest they also be inadvertently shocked by the defibrillator. Holding my breath, I carefully pressed the analyze button.
“Shock advised,” the machine said.
“J.J. didn’t feel well today,” Mrs. Fisher said. “In fact, he wasn’t going to attend the wedding. He wanted to stay home and sleep, but Jasmine and I talked him into coming with us.”
If Mr. Fisher had been alone at home, his family may have come home from the wedding to discover that J.J. had passed away in his bed. It was truly a blessing that he was in the right place at the right time. Through the power of prayer, combined with early defibrillation and CPR, Mr. Fisher would be able to enjoy many more years with his family.
A wedding gift to remember!
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A Key Tool for Navigating the Science and Faith Conversation
Pop science media, which has become a highly influential voice in our culture, often suggests that the Christian conception of reality has been made obsolete by the findings of modern science. Books, documentaries, and public lectures made by credentialed scientists sometimes subtly (or not so subtly) imply that science indicates that there is no God and that mankind is nothing more than an accidental creature inhabiting an unremarkable bit of rock floating out in the incomprehensible vastness of space.
Consider the critically acclaimed reboot of atheist cosmologist Carl Sagan’s 1980 miniseries, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Hosted by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, professor of astrophysics at Princeton University and popular science personality, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a visually stunning exhibition of our universe that, quite rightfully, inspires an acute sense of awe and wonder. The very first episode features an audio clip from the opening sequence of the original version—Sagan’s famous statement: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” The idea is that the physical stuff of the world—matter and energy—is all that exists, a paradigm that automatically excludes a transcendent Creator and an immaterial human soul. In this materialist view, there is no mindful plan behind the universe; blind, naturalistic processes alone must be sufficient to explain everything, including human beings. DeGrasse Tyson cheerfully tells us that we are nothing but “little guys living on a speck of dust afloat in a staggering immensity” of space and time—an idea in direct conflict with the Christian teaching about mankind being the intended and loved crown of creation.
The problem is, Cosmos suggests that science alone can provide answers to the more fundamental questions about reality, such as mankind’s place in the universe and whether or not anything exists beyond the material realm (God, for example). In reality, evidence from the natural sciences alone cannot say anything at all about human significance and the existence of God. These are questions that inevitably require philosophical and theological reflection, though scientific data can indeed play a supporting role. Claims such as “Science has ruled out God” or “Science has shown that humans are merely physical creatures” are false; science examines the physical world, and these kinds of questions are actually metaphysical (beyond the physical) in nature.
Not to mention, there are good philosophical arguments for theism and the human soul that are supported by the latest findings of contemporary science. For example, the kalam cosmological argument uses the overwhelming evidence for the universe having an ultimate beginning to argue for a transcendent cause. Also, evidence from research in neuroplasticity can help make a case for the human soul. These are just two examples that I discuss at length in my upcoming book, Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals About God.
The bottom line is, being able to identify philosophical statements disguised as scientific ones is enormously useful when engaging in dialogue with skeptics or with fellow believers seeking to understand how core Christian doctrines are compatible with the natural sciences. This skill goes a very long way in helping others become open to considering the ways in which nature points beyond itself to the Mind of a Maker.
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Learn to Lock Your Eyes on the One Who Matters Most
Posted on Jun 07, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Lysa TerKeurst
My touch has always comforted my youngest daughter, Brooke. I can remember as a baby when she’d start getting fussy in the car, I couldn’t do much to comfort her while trying to drive, but I could reach my arm into the backseat and gently pat her leg. It took a few minutes, but eventually she settled down and reached her tiny hand out to hold mine.
All of my kids like a hug, a pat on the shoulder, a hand of comfort on their back, but to Brooke these gentle touches seem to be a lifeline.
I remember a performance with her praise dance team from school. All the girls looked especially beautiful that day dressed all in white, their hair pulled gently back from their faces, and each had an extra measure of grace in their step. I couldn’t wait to see Brooke perform these dances she’d been working on and talking about for weeks. She loves getting up on a stage, so I expected her to be full of smiles and giggles. But just a few minutes before the performance was about to begin a very distraught Brooke made her way to the audience to find me. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she explained that the teacher had moved her from the front row to the back row, and she didn’t know the backrow’s part. I assured her everything would be fine.
I whispered, “Honey, just get up there and watch the other girls for cues and follow in step. You know this dance, Brooke. You’ll be fine.”
She sobbed back, “I won’t be fine if I mess up, and I know I’m going to mess up.”
That’s when it occurred to me. She would need my touch to get through this. But she and I both knew that it would not be possible for my arm to reach all the way up to the stage. So I quickly whispered, “Brooke, lock your eyes with mine, and Mommy will touch you with my smile. Don’t look at anyone or anything else. Don’t even look at the other girls dancing. It doesn’t matter if you mess up. What matters is that you keep your eyes on me the whole time. We’ll do this together.”
Quietly she asked, “The whole time, Mommy?”
“The whole time, Brooke,” I replied as I watched my brave girl walk away to take her place in line.
Several times during the dance, Brooke fell out of step. Her arms would go down when the rest of the back row lifted theirs up. She would go left and bump into the others headed right. She knew her steps weren’t perfect, so her eyes brimmed with tears. However, the tears never fell. With her eyes perfectly locked on my smiling face, she danced. She danced when the steps came easy. She danced when her steps got jumbled. She danced even when her emotions begged her to quit. She danced the whole way through. She danced and I smiled.
I smiled when her steps were right on track. I smiled when they weren’t. My smile was not based on her performance. My smile was born out of an incredible love for this precious, courageous little girl. As she kept her attention focused solely on my smile and the touch of my gaze, it was as if the world slowly faded away and we were the only ones in the room.
This is the way God wants me to dance through life.
Though I can’t physically see Him, my soul pictures Him so clearly. In my mind’s eye He is there. The touch of His gaze wraps about me, comforts me, assures me, and makes the world seem strangely dim. As long as my gaze is locked on His, I dance and He smiles. The snickers and jeers of others fade away. Though I hear their razor-sharp intentions, they are unable to pierce my heart and distract my focus. Even my own stumblings don’t cause the same feelings of defeat. My steps so often betray the desire of my heart, but it is not my perfect performance that captures His attention. Rather, it is my complete dependence on Him that He notices.
He then whispers, “Hold on to Me and what I say about you. For My words are the truth of who you are and the essence of what you were created to be.” I then imagine Him pausing and, with tears in His eyes and a crack in His voice, He adds, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
His truth frees you from the chains of doubt and despair. His truth frees me from feeling unable and inadequate to try and pursue God in an all-out way. His truth washes over me as I tentatively whisper, “I want to be a woman who says yes to God.” And in that moment, with my eyes locked on His, I am.
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How to Build Relationships and Be a Friend Like Jesus
Posted on Jun 05, 2018 Topic : Men's Christian Living
"While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:10-11).
Jesus was relational because He loved people, especially people who claimed no religious devotion. He took His disciples with Him to the house of Matthew, a despised man, frowned on by his fellow Jews for being a Roman tax surrogate. Jesus knew the best way to get to know someone was to be with them where they lived. He invited His followers to join Him so they could learn how to better love sinners. Christ was criticized by the religious elite for being too familiar with sinners, but our Lord was happily fulfilling His mission “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
The quality of our lives is influenced by the quality of our relationships. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
You probably desire quality relationships, but are you willing to pay the price of investing in others with the goal of providing more value than you receive?
What does it mean to have quality of life? Is it good health? Harmony at home? A happy heart? Financial security? Freedom of speech and worship? A fulfilling career? Grateful and contented children? A meaningful marriage? A life of significance? Peace with God? Probably some of these elements and more make up a life worth living, a quality life.
Relationships matter because the quality of our lives is influenced so heavily by the quality of our relationships. Who we spend time with is who we become. If we spend time with those who are wise with their finances, we too can become wise with our finances—if we pay attention. If we worship with those of great faith, we too can grow in our faith. Our lives reflect our relationships.
How is your relational portfolio? Is it diversified with people who bring value to all aspects of your life? Conversely, are you intentional in investing time and interest in those who look to you for guidance? Quality of life flows not just from receiving wisdom but from giving wisdom. Wisdom works both directions for the good of relationships.
Be careful not to excuse bad behavior because you are trying to relate to questionable company. 1 Corinthinas 15:33 warns, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” Draw a line, and stay far away from eroding your character. You don’t have to join in the bad to be an influence for the good. In some situations, what you choose not to do defines you more than what you choose to do. Use business trips and vacations to model faithfulness, not foolishness. Stand for what’s right when others bow to what’s wrong.
Above all, quality of life results from your relationship with Christ. He is life itself, and everything good in life flows from Him. When you grow in your personal relationship with Jesus, it affects the growth of all your other relationships. Relationship building with heaven builds relationships on earth. Ultimately, Jesus’s life is the one to follow and model. The resurrected life of Christ gives you the spiritual stamina to experience a quality life.
Leading relationally is one of the most fulfilling aspects of serving as a wise leader. Whether at home or work, we have the opportunity to treat others like human beings with very real needs and wants, without compromising the vision and mission of the organization. There will always be a tension between valuing a relationship over results, but this is how we grow as wise leaders.
Are you growing in your relational skills? Are you living in community and being challenged relationally? Wherever you are on the relational continuum of engaged or unengaged, stay in the relational game.
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What Stray Screws and Fence Posts Have to Do with Purpose
My husband is a third-grade teacher at a local elementary school, which means each May I start a list of home-improvement projects for him to tackle when summer break finally arrives. A few years ago we decided to fence in our backyard, creating a safe space for our daughter to play with clear boundaries and privacy. The work, however, started long before summer arrived. Inside our garage for several months was a large section of fence along the wall, looming over my car when I climbed out. It was a trial run of that much larger project we would tackle when the ground thawed.
I’d looked at countless images of fences in different sizes, shapes, designs, and patterns. I’d seen photos of the English-style garden my husband wanted to create once the space was defined. Words like “shadowbox” and “lattice ” had been incorporated into my vocabulary as we debated the pros and cons of a six-foot fence versus an eight-foot fence. And I spent entirely too much time in the local home improvement store staring blankly at fence posts.
That piece of fence? It wasn’t beautiful in our garage. It was in the way, smelled like a lumberyard, left a layer of dust on everything, and took up entirely too much space. I was worried I might pop a tire on a forgotten screw.
I feel like that piece sometimes. A little lost. Sometimes set aside. Unable to connect my work with the larger finished product God can see clearly. In a noisy world where fancier, shinier, and bigger get the glory, I sit in my small town and live my every day wondering if I’m noticed. Or worse, if I’m just in the way.
As I’ve spent some time wrestling over my motivations for recognition (a root of envy God has been carefully digging out), God has been teaching me to look at my place and position as a gift from Him. He sees the big picture, the whole project, where every screw and board and refining cut will come together in my life to work together for His kingdom.
And sometimes the smallest pieces add the most strength.
If we planned to build that fence using only the largest pieces of lumber and the heaviest posts, it would collapse immediately. Every piece—from the messiest cement to the smallest screw—must work together to create a structure secure and beautiful.
In a holy hustle community, every gift is needed. Our collaboration with one another gives us the opportunity to turn our small obedience into something beautiful that shows the world what it means to work together, to serve side by side with encouragement instead of envy.
But on those days when it feels incredibly easy to be overlooked? When our view of the world from our computers, our offices, our kid’s soccer practices, or our board meetings makes us wonder if we’re being used in God’s plan at all? God has this to say: “I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands; your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:16 esv). No matter what, God does not forget you.
You are not overlooked.
You are not insignificant.
You are not less than.
God sees you. He knows you.
He carries your name on His hands.
You are His.
You are chosen.
You are forgiven.
You are called.
You are loved.
You are included.
You are wanted.
Following the loud, clanging demands and expectations of the world will only make us feel insecure as we compare our place in God’s plan to those around us . Let’s instead choose to trust God as the Master Craftsman who knows when, how, and why, and which pieces to use to make something beautiful and secure that will last a lifetime.
Become captivated by God’s purpose in your life and lean into working hard, resting well, and living the life of holy hustle God has called you to, right where you are
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He’s Got Your Number
When I was living in a remote part of Alaska, I had no radio or TV reception. All I owned for entertainment was a small VCR/TV unit, but thankfully someone gave me a VHS copy of The Visual Bible: The Gospel of Matthew.
My buddy Rob and I kept the Visual Bible playing in the background continuously, and I thought the actor was amazing and his portrayal of Jesus was brilliant. It was also the first time I had ever seen a smiling Jesus in film. The actor was Bruce Marchiano, and I always hoped to meet him in person.
Twenty-one years later, my hopes became reality.
I recently spent two days at a film conference, where I finally met Bruce Marchiano, my Alaska-cabin Jesus, and we hit it off immediately! Bruce bought me dessert, and as we sat at the table talking, I remember thinking, “Jesus just bought me a milkshake. I guess man doesn’t live by bread alone.” (Wow. I LOVE that interpretation of the verse.)
Anyway, because I only knew Bruce from his portrayal of Jesus, at first I had trouble distinguishing between him and “Him.” Every time Bruce said “Torry,” I’d think, Jesus knows my name!
The most surreal moment was when Bruce said, “This is my last night at the conference, but I want to keep talking with you. Can I take you out to dinner?”
My jaw literally dropped for a moment before responding, “Did you just invite me to your last supper?”
Of course I asked Bruce to pray for dinner because there’s no way I’d be able to pray better than him/Him. I had no sooner opened my eyes after praying when a miracle had happened. The empty garlic roll basket was completely full again!
“Did you do that?” I asked him/Him.
“No, that was the waiter,” Bruce laughed. “He replaced it when we were praying.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling disappointed. “For a minute, it was just like the movie.”
We had such a great time talking over dinner that the next day Bruce asked me if I wanted to drive him to the airport so we could spend even more time together. What do you know, I thought, Jesus really DOES like spending time with me!
I was honored to drive Bruce to the airport, but if he was counting on me to make sure he arrived there on time, this Jesus was truly living by faith. If you read my new book, The Call of the Mild, you’d know the kinds of troubles I get into behind the steering wheel. Trust me, people, I can barely navigate a conversation much less an interstate. In both cases, no one goes unscathed.
It was only a 24-mile ride to the airport with Bruce, but in typical Torry fashion I somehow managed to get lost three or four times, and I had to keep turning my car around to correct myself.
“You’ve made so many U-turns, I think you just formed the Star of David,” Bruce observed.
“I did it in your honor.”
Bruce looked at me thoughtfully before responding, “Shalom.”
Finally, after 10 more minutes of my aimless driving, Bruce gently asked, “How about you pull over and let me get us there?”
“What, do I look like Carrie Underwood?” I snapped. “You’re not taking my wheel buddy. Get it out of your head.” I couldn’t believe he/He even suggested it. “Besides,” I continued, “Jesus only drove camels, and this is a Mustang.”
“Just get me to the plane in time,” he pleaded with sweat dripping from his brow.
“Stop worrying. They won’t leave without you,” I said reassuringly.“They can’t. You’re the co-pilot, remember? For heaven’s sake, read a bumper sticker.”
We actually arrived a little early, so Bruce had a few minutes to spare before he ascended… you know, in the plane. To make sure he wouldn’t forget me, I gave Bruce my business card and then said goodbye.
I was six wrong turns and 40 miles away from home when my cell phone suddenly dinged. It was a message from Bruce—my very first text message from Jesus. It said: “My new best friend! I look forward to hanging out again!”
I knew it was Bruce, but I couldn’t help thinking, Jesus just called me his best friend! And I’m in his cell phone! He has my number! But what really struck me was the sudden realization that Jesus—the real Jesus—sends us this same exact message every hour of every day. From the moment you meet Him, He’s your new best friend. Jesus loves spending time with you, and He looks forward to every opportunity to do so. He invites us to dine daily with Him, and He desires to be in daily communication (which thankfully doesn’t require a cellular signal).
The question isn’t if Jesus has our number. He has all of our numbers, each and every one of us, and He is calling you and me. The question is: Will you answer?
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Does Your Kid Want to Be Cool?
Posted on May 24, 2018 Topic : Fiction
Like most middle schoolers, Flex's mind is on a million different things—school, sports, friends, girls (of course), and yes, he's thinking about God too. But mostly, Flex is obsessed with being cool. In this excerpt from the graphic novel The Extraordinary Life of a Mediocre Jock, Flex contemplates the meaningful things in middle-school life—football and fitting in.
Am I cool?
Well, I’m 12 years old and writing a memoir, so that right there probably disqualifies me from being cool.
I’ve always liked reading and writing. What can I say?
In the pantheon of Nerdy Kids Who Write Books, everybody is doing apocalyptic fiction or trying to write their own versions of The Hobbit. But I’m not a nerd—in either the cool or uncool sense of the word. Cool nerds listen to bands you’ve never heard of and obsess about video games. Uncool nerds are like cool nerds except that they skip the bands and just obsess about the video games.
That about sums up the nerd situation.
But what I really love is football (and to a lesser degree, basketball and baseball and track and professional wrestling—which I don’t admit to in mixed company). I live for football.
Right before football practice
Our locker room at Empty Factory Middle School is actually in the boiler room. We put on our shoulder pads underneath asbestos pipes that will probably one day kill us.
In fact, I think I feel a cough coming on (coughs). This doesn’t seem to bother anyone except me, and I don’t say anything about it out loud.
Two people who are cooler than me are our star running back, Scottie (nickname: Maverick, or Mav) and our quarterback, Fordo.
Scottie has great shoes, wears a gold chain and totally pulls it off, and is dating Krissy from band.
When you’re a seventh grader dating an eighth grader, you’re automatically cool. You’re, like, grandfathered into being cool forever. Our kids will tell our grandkids about you. That’s how cool you are.
But football really stresses me out, even though it’s the thing I love more than any other thing in the world. I know I should say I love God more than football… and I do. I mean, I do. Except that football is the thing I think about and dream about. When I get home from practice, I lay out my jersey on the floor and put on my headphones and just dream about football.
Coach has a perpetually red face, but not because he’s nervous. It’s because he’s Intense. In Coach Wood’s world, there are two kinds of people—people who are intense and have pride, and people who lack intensity and pride. (Spoiler alert: You don’t want to be the second kind of person.)
I’m the first kind, or at least I’m trying to be. I’m not the most athletic guy, but I work really, really hard. There are some guys like this in the NFL, and not surprisingly, they are my favorite players. I’m a starter at tight end and outside linebacker.
Why am I this nervous before an average Thursday practice? I have no idea. The cool kids (like Mav and Fordo) aren’t like this. They wait until the last minute to get their uniforms on, and Mav is currently showing Fordo something on his iPhone. They’re both laughing.
Cool kids get to bring their iPhones to school. My parents won’t let me.
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Genesis: Gateway to God’s Love
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
More than just the first book in Scripture, Genesis is the foundational book of the Bible. Everything else in the remaining sixty-five books builds upon its elemental truths. Until you understand Genesis, you can’t fully grasp the rest of the story. Probably for that reason, the New Testament quotes the book of Genesis more than 200 times, more than any other biblical book. Genesis is absolutely essential to everything that follows.
Even though it contains some of the most familiar stories and recognizable people in the Bible, Genesis is much more than the well-known Sunday school stories and felt-board figures of childhood. It is the book of beginnings. Genesis gives us the roots of the world we live in—the origins of the universe, man, and sin; the fall of man; the institutions of marriage and human government; and the birth of the nation of Israel, through whom the Messiah would come. No wonder so many other biblical authors quote it so often!
The book of Genesis covers at least 2,500 years of human history. We can’t give an exact time, because some controversy still exists as to how long ago “the beginning” took place. No amount of argument or discussion over its details, however, can displace its importance as an introduction to the God who formed the universe and made us all in His image.
You really can’t go back any further than “in the beginning.” The question is, when was “in the beginning”? Many evangelicals hold to a young earth theory, insisting it is no more than 10,000 years old. Some of these folks get dogmatic and say it is just 6,000 years old; they contend that the genealogies in Genesis are exhaustive, and by counting up the years of people’s ages recorded in the biblical text, they arrive at the 6,000-year figure. Along these lines, some even suggest that God built aging factors into His initial creation so that it only appeared to be older. Others react, saying if that is the case, God would be a liar (making the universe look old when it’s not).
Still others disagree with all of the above. They say the universe began anywhere from two to twenty billion years ago. Evolutionists have long believed that processes spanning billions of years have altered inanimate matter into a variety of lifeforms through slow changes and genetic mutations. And it’s not just the evolutionists who insist on this. There are Christian leaders and scientists who advocate this approach to understanding the origins of the universe. Some even elongate the “six days” of creation into six epochal periods or geological eras of unspecified years.
Both groups can get animated about their respective positions as they argue over this issue. The problem, of course, is that none of us were there at the beginning, and so we can only guess the age of the universe. While that can be intellectually stimulating and even fun, years ago I decided to get out of the speculation business. So I don’t know when the beginning took place, but I do know that in the beginning, God. That’s how the Bible begins—not with philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Scripture simply works off the supposition that He exists. And because only He was there, only He can speak with real authority about the age of the earth or the universe and how it came about.
And so Scripture says, in the most understated and simple way, "In the beginning God."
Welcome to Genesis. It all starts here.
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Discover the Hidden Value of Patience
Posted on May 18, 2018 Topic : Men's Christian Living
Posted by : Don Hicks
Of all the friends who’ve gone with me to a deer stand, there’s one who has helped me find success more than any other, and I think you’ll be surprised to know that this friend is not a hunter.
I have to wait till there’s enough daylight to shoot, and sometimes I have to wait for the sun to melt the frost off the field so the local herd wants to browse in it. I might have to wait till a dense fog lifts off the meadow. And then I have to wait on the deer to move through—if they do.
Waiting, especially if it requires hours for a critter to come into harvesting range, has a way of messing with important things like concentration, determination, and emotional stamina. Too much waiting can even make inactive muscles turn as stubborn as a cantankerous old mule.
I’ve used things to help me deal with the waiting, including a good book and a small Bible. At times I’ve even tried writing poetry using the pad and pen that are always with me. But try as I may by using these tactics, ultimately I’ve found that only one thing helps me endure the grind of waiting—patience!
Patience is a true friend
He (a masculine reference because it’s like having a hunting buddy with me) is willing to sit with me the entire time I’m out there waiting. He doesn’t scold me when I get antsy. Instead of making me feel defeated, patience gently reminds me that the wait is an invaluable part of the hunt.
Patience reminds me that when I wait, God can whisper to me through His written Word
He tenderly helps me remember that the Book of books is in my backpack and that waiting provides a great opportunity to take it out and hear what nugget of wisdom the Holy Spirit might impart as I listen through the pages.
Patience is kind enough to suggest that waiting on a deer stand is a great time to pray
There are plenty of folks who could use an uplift in prayer, like my ailing friend whom I need to call. Then there’s my beloved wife, our children and grandchildren, the members of the congregation I shepherd, our spiritually ill nation, and our leaders, who could definitely use some prayer while I wait.
I want to be more like my friend patience, not only in the woods but also in the rest of life, especially as I wait for the Lord of all creation to show up—Christ Jesus. What would my friend suggest as I tarry?
He’d say, “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7).
And so I will.
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Unpack Your Faith in a Fresh New Way
Have you ever noticed that some things are difficult to put in boxes? Lamps, bicycles, and plants – they just don’t fit easily into neatly defined packages.
Faith is like that. It’s impossible to bundle faith into a tidy system of rules or even a precise list of doctrines. Like a plant in a dark box, if faith is constricted too long, it will begin to wilt.
I encourage you to give your faith a breath of fresh air. Explore it. Express it in fresh new ways that are uniquely you. I pray that this spring season will refresh and inspire your soul, and that you will encounter our amazing Creator God in ways that transcend borders and expand horizons.
In this season of renewal, I invite you to explore and create. Be open to having the Lord speak to you in new ways. It might be while you are out exploring nature. It might be while you are reading your Bible and you discover a new “life verse” or experience an old favorite Scripture in a new way.
Following God is anything but boring. Let’s celebrate this truth. Let’s be adventurous enough to explore beyond the old boundaries and borders. Let’s venture to the places where we find a deeper connection with our God, the ultimate Artist, the ultimate Creator.
To start you on your new faith adventure, here's some activities I designed to help inspire you. Download them here: FAITH OUTSIDE THE LINES
Looking for additional activities to unleash your creative side?
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The One Thing You Can Do to Really Connect with Your Kids
Posted on May 10, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Kathi Lipp
What makes your kids giddy with excitement? An amazing song? Beautiful artwork? A last-minute home run with the bases loaded to win the game? An amazing bowl of salsa? Whatever it is that your kids are passionate about, one of the most powerful things you can do to connect with your kids is to invest in what they invest in.
My oldest, Justen, has always loved to write stories, and at a young age showed great ability as a storyteller. His characters were rich with detail, and his scenes were fun and fast-paced. When he turned fifteen, we started to plan an adventure: Six days driving up through California and beyond until we hit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. And what determined our route? We spent a lot of time locating the best used bookstores (and bookstores that carried new books but also had a great used-books section) along the way.
We started with a detour based on a recommendation from my mom to visit the Almost Perfect Bookstore in Roseville, California. It was officially the first stop on our literary adventure. And after about a half hour in the store, I was concerned that it might be our last. I was afraid all the spending money Justen had saved over the past few months was going to be spent in one spot. His favorite author had recently signed a few copies of his latest book for the store, and Justen wanted one. Bad.
Plop went his money (and maybe some of his grandmother’s money that she had slipped to him without my knowledge), and Justen was in proud possession of a signed copy of his favorite author’s latest release.
As far as Justen was concerned, the trip could have ended then.
But we soldiered on. We drove and listened to audiobooks, we drank copious amounts of coffee, and we talked. We talked about life, we talked about writing, and we talked about God.
It ended up being one of the best memories I have with my son—and I learned so much about who he is, what he loves, and what he wants out of life. Investing in Justen’s passions is the activity that has given me the biggest payoff.
We do the same thing when we’re dating. We do it because people love it when we want to hang out where they hang out. It makes them feel valued and special. It gives them a common language to speak with us. It changes the way they act and interact.
It’s no different with our kids. When we get passionate about what they are passionate about, it changes our relationship.
Investing in your child’s passions takes time (that you may not have) and money (that may be in short supply), but it’s so important. Here are some of my best tips on how to make it work:
Learning the lingo. Whatever your child loves, you need to learn the lingo. Go to Wikipedia.com to brush up on the terms your child is using. Or read the magazines they read. Listen to the music they like.
Create a fund for their passion. Put aside a small amount of money each month (and let them contribute too) to pay for supplies, classes, books, tickets, and more that relate to your child’s passion.
Put your money where their passion is. Ask your child to put together a wish list of things they would like. You will always have gift ideas they’ve picked out themselves.
Be obsessed with them. Even if you don’t share their passion, find a way to be with them while they pursue it. Be obsessed with your kid by showing up. Attend their sporting events, go to a concert with them, watch them perform. Spend time with them doing the thing they love.
Find your peeps. Maybe you don’t know anything about your child’s passion, but you know someone who does. Connect your kids with someone who shares their passions. They’ll gain a mentor, and you’ll love seeing your children bond with a positive role model.
Show the love. My stepson, Jeremy, became passionate about running while he was in high school. Even though I will never participate in Jeremy’s passion (there is no way I could keep up), we show up and cheer him on, and the framed photos are tangible proof in our living room that we are invested in Jer. Show up for your kid, and show them your love and support.
Investing in your children’s interest is an investment that is sure to payoff for you, and for them, for years to come.
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What Snow Falling on Dead Trees Taught Me About Jesus
Our views are my favorite part of our property before we moved in—the only thing I wanted to change was seeing the side of our neighbor’s house, complete with red metal trailers, campers, half a dozen cars, and oodles of garbage cans.
I made it my mission to fix the eyesore in the most efficient and beautiful way. So I set my heart on trees, saved up, and bought a dozen cedar trees to line the fence. I was assured that red cedars would grow the fastest and provide the most blockage from the neighbors.
It was the most perfect plan. Until it wasn’t.
Shortly after the trees were planted, we got hit with torrential rain and insanely high winds. The trees couldn’t handle the impact, and many of them fell over. We put them back in place, staked them, and figured all would be well.
Over the next few months we watched them lose color, strength, and fullness. Until one day we looked up and were greeted with bare limbs and sparse bunches of orange needles.
I couldn’t bear to admit the defeat. I’d failed. I couldn’t even get trees to grow in the Christmas tree capital of the world. Removing them would require coming to terms with so many of my other failures and heartaches.
So I left them there. Dead. Barren. A vast display of ugliness and disappointment greeting me and my coffee every morning and causing my soul to grieve with frustration.
Every morning started this way. For nearly 400 mornings.
Until this one.
This morning I looked down upon my tree-lined fence and was met with the magic of heaven. Old made new. Dirty made clean. Ugly putting on the clothes of breathtaking beauty.
I stood awestruck. I stared harder and harder as I tried to make sense of it, looking with deep intensity trying to see a glimpse of the dead brown limbs under the white, sparkly blanket.
All I could see was snow. All I could see was this bright, white, shining wall of beauty. Glistening with freshness, and wonder, and a peaceful presence that was almost magical. Okay, let’s face it. It was completely magical.
My 12 dead trees weren’t even recognizable under the glory, and I instantly saw pieces of my own heart wrapped up in their branches. Why do I fight so hard to do everything on my own with a Savior who wants to wash me like snow and cover me in Himself ? Why do I insist on believing that I am forgotten? Looked over? And left behind? When I am clearly engulfed by the love of the King?
I bet if those trees could brush away enough snow from their imaginary tree eyes to look in the mirror, they wouldn’t even believe what they saw. The beauty on their own bodies. The majesty before them. Completely covering them. Even with the cold of the snow up against
their bark and the glory visibly on their frames, they might still feel the sting of ugliness and rejection of not being able to succeed at what they were created to do.
We all do this. Me especially. Countless times I have forgotten whose I was, and continued to walk down a path clothed in barren not-enough-ness instead of dressing in the fullness that comes with being clothed in Christ.
It feels almost impossible for me to see myself as anything but the small-town high school girl who barely graduated. Somewhere along the line, I started putting on clothes I was never meant to wear. They came in the form of failures, shades of shame, and believing other people’s whispers over God’s.
And before long, that’s how I identified myself.
Even worse, I was convinced that’s how everyone else identified me too.
I don’t know where you are today, friend. Or where your heart is, for that matter. But I do know that somewhere along the line, we’ve all believed something about ourselves that we were never meant to believe.
Give yourself the grace our Savior died for you to have. He didn’t die so that we could continue living in our bondage, holding on to our heartache and swallowing lies about ourselves that keep holding us back and shoving us down.
He died so that we could be free. And freedom doesn’t wear chains of what was. Freedom lifts off, flies high, and embraces all that He is.
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Parents, You Don’t Need to Be Perfect…Because God Is
I don’t remember exactly when it happened. It was well after spending months learning about what to expect during my pregnancy, purchasing the car seat, and packing the bag for the hospital. I remember I felt large and so ready to meet our little girl. It was during those exciting final days of pregnancy that I came to this realization: I’ve been so focused on the pregnancy, I know NOTHING ABOUT PARENTING!
Should I have been reading books about parenting instead of focusing on the misery of morning sickness? Why hadn’t I been getting advice from other parents? The baby is going to be here any day—what about sleep training, potty training, and deciding between homeschool and public school?! #alreadytheworstparentever
Our baby arrived, and we made it through the weeks and months of sleepless nights. We watched her learn to roll over and then crawl. Then, somewhere in the middle of that haze of developmental milestones, I came to another conclusion: I’ve been so focused on sleep and diaper changes, I know NOTHING ABOUT PASSING ON THE FAITH TO MY KIDS!
And while my first parenting epiphany was bad enough, this realization struck me even harder. #forsuretheworstparentever
Learning how to parent is important, of course, but I have a desire to give my kids the best gift of all—a love for Jesus Christ. This burden of responsibility hit me later than I would care to admit, given that I’ve worked in Christian publishing for the last 14 years. And while I’m far from perfect, I love finding book projects that will help normal, imperfect, and panicked moms like me.
Eighteen months ago, my team and I set out to create a book that would give kids and their parents a wow-worthy, faith-affirming, craze-mazing (yes, I work in publishing and I just used a made-up word!) experience with the Bible. We wanted to show young kids how amazing the Bible is and how it points directly to our Lord and Savior from beginning to end. We wanted to capture the attention of kids of all ages with facts and information they could relate to. (For instance, do you know how many soccer balls could fill Noah’s ark?)
And that’s why we created Bible Infographics for Kids.
Achieving our goal was sheer delight. The Word of God is nothing short of completely sufficient, absolutely incredible, and amazingly awe-inspiring. By connecting the exciting people, unusual facts, powerful concepts, and the awesome God of the Bible with dynamic visuals, we made a book you can enjoy right along with your kids. It even folds out to make a Bible timeline board game (think Candy Land but with a purpose)!
I learned so much more about the Bible through the research and development of this project. Even as an adult, I found myself sharing fun facts and interesting anecdotes with anyone who would listen….and I mean anyone!
Imagine your kids on the school playground sharing facts with their friends or in Sunday school feeling awesome because they know about Deborah and Methuselah and Balaam’s talking donkey! Delight as you see the miracles of God unfold on the page or the sheer volume of prophesies Jesus fulfilled or the number of shoes Paul must have worn through as he walked around spreading the Gospel.
I’m amazed at my now four-year-old daughter’s capacity for and desire to learn more about the Bible. Yes, God’s Word is nothing short of totally sufficient, even when you don’t feel like you are. A good parenting book or blog post is always helpful, but ultimately, we just need Him. That said, here’s one tool you can add to your super-cool mom tool belt. My hope and prayer is that our book blesses your family as much as it has mine.
Read more in Bible Infographics for Kids by
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Who Will You Live For?
My father, William Aaron Toler, was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. He began his working life as a coal miner in the most productive coal region in West Virginia, but one of the poorest counties in the nation. Dad worked every day in the mines, returning home tired, his face blackened with coal soot. Mining is a perilous occupation, and Dad broke his back three times in the mines while laboring to feed our family. More than once I saw him cough up black coal dust into a snow-white handkerchief, a common occurrence among miners of that day.
Realizing that his family’s welfare depended on his own health, Dad chose to move our family to Ohio, in search of a better life. Eventually Dad found a job with a construction company, and we were all elated. Then one Monday morning Dad went to work and never came home. Having escaped the harrowing dangers of the coal mine, he was electrocuted in a tragic on-the-job accident. I was 11.
The most important lesson I learned from Dad was the power of sacrifice. Dad worked hard at the risk of his own health and life, but he did not do it for himself. His goal was never to enjoy luxuries or to advance his own name. Dad toiled day in and day out to provide for his family and to support our local church. He did it for us. He did it for God. And he never complained. No human being has been a greater influence in my life than my father. Not because he was wealthy or powerful, highly educated or extremely successful. But because of the power of his sacrifice on behalf of his family and his faith.
Generosity is sharing from abundance. Sacrifice is giving at a level that risks loss. Generosity results in gratitude, but sacrifice produces devotion. Sacrifice leads to the most powerful influence because it is a demonstration of love. It’s being willing to put the needs of others ahead of your own.
Surrendering Your Power
The first way we can sacrifice for others is in the area of power, which can be defined in terms of rights, privileges, and control of circumstances. Though you may not feel like a powerful person, each of us has a certain amount of power in all our social contexts. We have rights as citizens. We enjoy privileges based on our family relationships or social status. And we hold some power in our social relationships and employment. Our instinct is to cling to our privileges and power, and to enhance them whenever possible. So when we go against that urge and voluntarily surrender power on behalf of others, it establishes our leadership and influence.
Transferring Your Wealth
A second area in which we may sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others is in the use of our wealth. Few of us feel as if we are wealthy, but we are. In a world in which an estimated three billion people live in poverty, requiring all their time and energy be devoted to gaining enough food to survive, those two facts indicate you have wealth. One definition of wealth is excess, so if you have more food, money, clothing, and resources than you need to survive, by that definition you are wealthy. Those who are willing to give money away, especially when it changes their own financial status, are rare indeed.
Risking Your Safety
A third area in which we may sacrifice for others is in risking our safety for their care or survival. Though there have been many brave souls who have literally given up their lives to save another person, most of us will never be called upon to knowingly make such a sacrifice. However, there are many occasions on which we may place our wealth, reputation, or health at risk on behalf of others. Our willingness to disregard our own safety is a powerful statement of our concern for others, and that concern brings great respect.
Every day, you have opportunities large and small to sacrifice yourself on behalf of others. There is no question about whether or not your sacrifice will be worthwhile, or whether or not it will be rewarded with increased esteem, respect, and attention. It certainly will be. The only question is this: Will you live your life for Christ and others, or only for yourself? Your answer to that question will, in large measure, determine the level of your influence.
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How to Develop Endurance in Trials
I clearly remember watching TV when I was a young boy growing up in Baltimore. From time to time the normal programming would be interrupted by a test of the emergency broadcasting system. Then I would hear a loud, annoying noise for 30 or 60 seconds. I used to hate those tests because they always seemed to come at the worst time, just when you didn't want the show to be interrupted. And since there was never any advance warning that the test was coming, there wasn't any way you could avoid it. The station just broke in and did its test.
The setbacks of life are like that. They often come with no warning, just the announcement: “This is a test.” There's often nothing to warn you that the doctor is coming back with a bad report or that your company is downsizing. Life's setbacks just show up at the most inopportune times.
We see throughout Scripture that trials are an inevitable reality in life, and we read imperatives like this: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). Notice the Bible does not say if you encounter trials, but when. Trials are inescapable. Job said, “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (5:7). The only way to avoid trouble is to exit life. Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33). You can count on it.
Trials are difficulties we inevitably run into as part of life, not necessarily the problems we create for ourselves. Those kinds of problems are called sin. So if you are going through a tough time right now, don't be surprised. If you have just exited a trial, don't be shocked when the next one arrives. Trials come with living in an imperfect world.
Trials come in a multitude of colors, shapes, and sizes. So, since we can't avoid them, what should we do with them? How can we turn a setback into a comeback? The Bible gives us three instructions on how to respond to trials:
1. Display Some Joy (James 1:2): When trials come, instead of getting mad, get glad because you know God is up to something good in your life. This command does not mean you have to hide the pain of a trial or pretend the pain feels good. The Bible does not say we need to feel joyful during the trial, but to consider that trial all joy.
2. Ask for Wisdom (James 1:5): God urges us to ask for His help during trials. James tells us to ask God, and He will freely and generously give us His wisdom (James 1:5). The Bible promises a generous supply of God's wisdom in answer to your prayer so you will know how to navigate successfully through the trial until you have reached its intended goal.
3. Give God Praise (James 1:9-11): James’s third piece of sound how-to advice is to give God praise. We are to praise God no matter what our situation. Give glory to God. He will lift you to a high position at the right time, and He will humble you when you need humbling. Give Him praise either way because He knows exactly what you need. God lets us come into conflict with earthly things so we might see eternal things more clearly. And He will keep the trial there until we pass the test.
God wants you to pass the test—to overcome the trial—not only so He can give you the reward but also so you will learn to love Him more, with Christlike passion and devotion. He puts you in trials to draw you close, to teach you to cling to Him, to grow you into spiritual adulthood, and to bring you along in your journey toward your comeback. Let Him finish His work in you.
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6 Stories Every Mom Should Tell
I take my seat on the top row of metal bleachers and peer across the football field.
The high school band plays the familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduates begin their procession. They’re wearing identical caps and gowns, so I strain to find the one I’m here for. The one who made me a mom, eighteen years ago. The one I stayed home with. Every day. Year after year. The one I taught to read. The one I taught to swim. The one who is about to leave for college. In another state.
Along the edge of the field, the breeze pulls the green and white balloons in one direction. That’s how I feel as a mom. Every instinct inside me wants to pull in one direction. I want to preserve each moment and resist this onward march toward the future.
Yet, I also want to embrace this new season the way an artist enjoys a new palette of colors to paint with.
It’s with this curious mixture of joy-for-the-future and nostalgia-for-the-past that I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. From this mom-heart-place of looking back and looking ahead, I’ve realized six of the most important stories I want my children to know. They’re six stories every mom should tell.
1. Tell the Story of Their Birth
Tell the story of their birth and how it unfolded. If you’ve adopted children, tell the story of how God brought them into your lives. Nothing in all creation is more beautiful than an adoption story, for it echoes God’s heart and the way He has adopted us as His children (Ephesians 1:4-5).
2. Tell the Story of How You Picked Their Name
What process did you go through when you chose your child’s name? Did you pick a name that carries part of your family’s history? Did you select a name that reflects a truth or a person in Scripture? Tell the story of how you picked your child’s name.
3. Tell a Story that Reflects Their Strengths
What stories can you recall — of your children when they were young — that clearly point to their strengths?
4. Tell the Story of How You Met Jesus
Of all the stories we could tell, this is the most important one.
5. Tell the Story of How You Met Their Dad
Share the story of how you met your child’s father, and how your child is the most beautiful blessing to come from that union. I understand, of course, that many of us have experienced the pain of broken stories. But when we surrender our brokenness to Christ, our lives become stories of redemption and hope.
6. Tell the Story of Your Dreams
Our children might be surprised to learn that we once dreamed of being an astronaut or a veterinarian. Share your dreams with your kids — dreams both past and present.
At the end of the graduation ceremony, I watch as my daughter and her friends toss their white caps into the air, and I breathe another prayer, placing these past eighteen years into the hands of Him who loves her even more than I do. Then I recall each story I’ve told her, knowing she takes these stories with her, everywhere she goes.
Are you ready to share your stories with your son or daughter?
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Why Talking to Your Kids About Sex Doesn’t Have to Be Awkward
We were out on our usual evening walk but this walk ended up being anything but the usual. Out of nowhere my child asked me about sex. It took me completely off guard. I hadn’t planned for this, I hadn’t set out to discuss this, I certainly didn’t think I was ready to have this sort of “sex” talk the right way. Everything felt so awkward. I was pressed to answer great questions that went so far beyond, “Where do babies come from?” My child wanted to know about the Bible's view of pregnancy before marriage, homosexuality as well as many other topics. It felt raw. It felt out of my control.
This wasn’t your average birds and bee’s kind of talk. This wasn’t the first time I had been asked these sorts of questions either. I didn’t want to mess this up, but I also wanted to tell my child about the Bible's positive perspective on sex. It felt like a fine line to balance and I am more of bull-in-a-china-shop-kind of guy.
God invented sex and it is good
Does that strike you as an odd thing to say? God is concerned for our enjoyment of each other. God knew that, when he created us, sex would be a big part of our lives. Our hormones drive us to it, our nervous system feels it, our bodies enjoy it and our spirits are united through it.
Sex is God’s good gift to humanity. When God created Adam and Eve he placed them together in the garden gave them the task of being fruitful and multiplying (Gen. 1:28, 31). We need to tell our kids about the good gift of sex, and we need to tell them honestly that sex is good. The typical response that I have is to downplay the goodness of sex so that my kids don’t end up wanting it before the right time. The truth is this is a huge disservice to them and lying won’t hamper their desires.
Sin broke our sexuality
When Adam and Eve sinned all of humanity suffered the consequences. Sin infected even the goodness of our sex lives. In that moment the good gift that was given to us by God became something that can be used to cause pain, manipulate or just doesn’t live up to our expectations. Here is the bad news, we have all sinned. (Romans 3:23). Only one sinless person ever existed and he is definitely not reading this blog.
But God did not leave us in our sin to live perfectly. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but the beautiful thing is that God loves to save sexually broken people (Mark 2:17) because it is all he has to work with.
The gospel and sex
The gospel heals what sin has broken, even our sex lives and our sexual past. Jesus was known for loving drunks and prostitutes so much that he saved and changed them (Luke 7:34, 36-50). This is the good news that we need to hold out to our kids and especially our teens. Let’s paint a full picture of the beauty of sex the way that God designed it. Our discussions can be about so much more than a bunch of rules. We get the opportunity to spend time with our kids talk with them about the God who loves, the God who transforms, the God who is a friend of sinners.
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What a Bologna Sandwich Taught Me About Marriage
Did you ever think someone could show you love through a bologna sandwich?
I didn’t think so either.
Until I found out that my then-boyfriend-now-husband (a poor, broke, medical school student at the time) spent close to two months eating bologna sandwiches every day, in order to cut down his grocery budget to $10/week. Just so he could save up enough money to buy me an engagement ring.
The truth is this: marriage will cost you.
When you think of the cost of marriage, what comes to mind?
According to recent statistics, the average couple today spends $26,444 on a wedding. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to the REAL cost of marriage. Because like it or not, marriage will cost you MORE. It will cost you something great. It will cost you a price much larger than the money you spend on a ring or a wedding or a honeymoon.
It will cost you yourself.
I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), "I shouldn't be with someone if I'm not happy..." and it made my stomach turn.
What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing that their main goal in life is THEIR OWN personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live. If you're getting married with that as your main goal, to make yourself happy, you will be disappointed in a severe way.
Marriage is not about your happiness, it's not even about you. It's about LOVE, which is something we choose to give time and time again. It's about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving, and then doing it all over again.
No wonder we often choose divorce over commitment...because most of the time, we're choosing "personal happiness" over real commitment--over real love.
They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. I have found that phrase to be true in my relationship with my husband. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small. That's what marriage will cost you.
It’s about offering forgiveness when you’ve been hurt.
It’s about giving your time though it’s not always convenient.
It’s about sharing your heart when you’d rather hold back.
It’s about cleaning the kitchen after a long weekend, even if it’s your least favorite job.
It’s about choosing to respond with love when you'd rather respond in anger.
It’s about offering a listening ear, when you’d rather tune out or go to bed.
It’s about putting someone else’s needs and desires before your own.
It’s about giving up that last bite of cake, just so your spouse can enjoy it.
It’s about putting aside your rights, to make space for the rights of another.
The list could go on and on, but it always ends with the same formula:
WE BEFORE ME.
That's what marriage will cost you.
We live in a world that DESPISES the sacrificial side of marriage and tries to explain it away. They teach us to strive for power, control, and the upper hand in a relationship. They tell us to do what feels right, and not to tolerate anything less. They fool us to thinking that love is about doing what makes us happy. And the second we feel less than happy, they encourage us to bail....to abandon ship...and to stop investing…to give up on love.
But they’ve got it all wrong.
Because the more we give, the better we become. Real Love is not self-seeking, and it will ALWAYS cost you. More, and more, and more. Again, and again, and again.
It will cost your heart, your time, and your money. It will cost your comfort, your rights, and your pride. It will cost you to “lay down your life” for the life of another. Because only those who learn to die to themselves are the ones who get to experience the resurrection power that comes with it.
Resurrection into real love, into real life, and into meaningful relationships.
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How Simply Showing Up Can Be the Best Thing You Do
Are you tempted to forsake gathering together with other Christians? Maybe skip church? Or avoid a small group or Bible study commitment?
Even as an extrovert, there are times I want to withdraw from community life. It’s not that being with people taps me out, but rather that doing life together can sometimes be so messy, making me want to run for the hills. Can you relate? But that desire to run doesn’t mean we should give in to it.
We often need to dive into community knowing that God is about the business of accomplishing His work even in the midst of our mess. I learned that lesson on a Sunday when I was tempted to skip church after a week of travel but remembered I promised to bring a side dish to small group meeting after service. Without a valid out, I kicked it into high gear and we made barely made it church on time. I sat through the sermon arguing with God about the value of showing up, since my heart wasn’t in it, but got no answer at all…until the end of our small group time. The topic from the sermon combined with the video we watched in our group spurred on an authentic time of sharing. One couple finally let their pain come to the surface and boldly asked for support. We gathered around them and prayed for God’s healing and leading. The relief on their faces proved to me that encouragement is something that can only happen when we show up.
Simply by gathering together, we become an encouragement to each other.
Should we be surprised that such a little act of obedience could reap such a blessing?
God, I will not neglect meeting together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, so I may be an encourager and receive encouragement. Please forgive me for my stubbornness and the times I run from what You say is best. Give me the conviction and courage to heed Your Word, especially when it comes to gathering together with my brothers and sisters in Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What does it look like for you to not forsake gathering together with believers, even if being fully present is simply an act of obedience to God?
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Like Mother, Like Daughter
Posted on Apr 10, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Dawn Camp
It’s been over 13 years since Mother passed away on my birthday, and it’s taken years to reclaim the day as my own. For her, those two March 16ths, 38 years apart, began in pain and ended in joy: in the birth of her first child and in the presence of her Savior.
Calling your mom Mother sounds formal to some people; I don’t mean it that way. She preferred Mommy, but she wouldn’t have been Mama any more than she would have been Granny rather than Gran; it just didn’t suit.
Mother was petite, in poor health, and physically weak, but her mind was wise and strong. She didn’t understand why family members asked her advice in areas that didn’t involve her. But we respected her counsel. She liked to say, “No one person is important enough to make everyone around them miserable.”
Mother didn’t waste much time in the kitchen. Her cooking didn’t extend far beyond Bisquick pancakes and boxed brownies, but she mastered her own, personal version of comfort food: white powdered doughnuts warmed in the toaster oven bubbly; Dr Pepper boiled and flavored with lemon juice; warm brownies drizzled with melted butter. Mother sometimes sat in her recliner and toasted marshmallows with a lighter to make s’mores. I admire such dedication in pursuit of the perfect snack.
As an adult, I’ve gotten tetanus shots because of unexpected encounters with a rusty nail and the bottom of a go-cart, but my mother needed them—twice—because of squirrels. She attempted to rescue one from a dog’s mouth and tried to touch one at a petting zoo. She loved animals, even if they didn’t always love her.
Last week a lady at church told me my mother would be proud of me and my family. She passed away before I started writing; missing her inspired me to start my blog. She knew seven of my eight children, but was gone before any of the girls entered their teens. I’ve missed her advice as they’ve grown.
Time and perspective continue to reveal my mother’s influence, the ways I’m like her and the ways I’m not. She hated the color orange; we never had a pillow, a splash of paint, or a piece of clothing in that shade. Mother once had surgery in a hospital wing painted orange. I’m sure it was meant to be cheerful, but a happy color can’t overcome a painful association. I didn’t own anything orange while my mother lived; I never considered it. Now I have orange shirts and orange scarves, and a cute little orange owl decorates our house each fall. I love orange! At first it felt like a betrayal when I realized it, but her experience was not my own.
I believe words have power, and my mother knew it too. She hated the word snot but thought stuff was a good Bible word. (Genesis 45:20 cautions us, “Regard not your stuff.”) Facetious was one of her favorites. Winsome is one of mine. Her shelves overflowed with books, just like mine, and I have no doubt she would have read every word I write.
Although Mother didn’t question God’s good taste or the beauty of His creation, she thought hydrangeas were tacky and found the big, blue flowers offensive. The summer after she passed I planted a bush in my front yard, in her honor. But not out of disrespect; it wasn’t until then that I realized I actually liked hydrangeas, much like the color orange.
I don’t prefer her soft pastel color palette, and I’ve never planted the signature red geraniums that filled the window boxes of my childhood home each spring. She never baked a cake or a pie, but I even make my own yogurt. I can’t imagine my mother exercising, even if her health permitted it, but I started running a few years ago. She liked coffee; I drink tea. Despite our more obvious differences, in fundamentals my mother and I are much the same: stubbornly independent, unwilling to forsake our core values, intellectually curious, fiercely loyal to family.
I sometimes wonder if my kids listen to me, but I know from experience a mother’s words burrow deep in the hearts of her children. Whether we embrace or reject them, they’re always a part of us, speaking soft or loud in the voice of our conscience. I’m glad my mother raised me to think for myself and hold fast to my convictions, even the unpopular ones, and that occasionally I’m blessed to hear the words: “You remind me of your mother.”
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Singleness vs. Marriage: An Amish Woman’s Dilemma
Posted on Apr 05, 2018 Topic : Fiction
Linda Mueller enjoys her orderly, uneventful existence creating quilts and working at an Englisch fabric shop. Idealistic to a fault, Linda has never found a man worth marrying—until she meets Isaac Mast. In this emotional scene from The Amish Quilter, Linda begins to question her feelings. Could she actually want to get married someday?
I stared at the ceiling. I had to admit, it wouldn't hurt me to lighten up a little bit. I knew I took everything and everyone too seriously. Myself, for one. And, I feared, Isaac's feelings toward me. Sure, he smiled at me and asked me questions and talked and laughed, but I had no indication that he cared for me more than he did anyone else.
An odd sort of emptiness clenched at me from somewhere deep within. Shifting onto my side, I bent my knees, arms clasped at my stomach. I felt almost...lonely. With such a big family and a close-knit community, that wasn't a familiar emotion for me. Then again, this seemed like a particular kind of loneliness, a longing for more than just family and friends. It wasn't even necessarily about Isaac. It was bigger than that. It was about me and my expectations of going through life as a single woman, alone. I'd always said I would never marry, but was that truly what I wanted? Or was that a lie I told myself because deep inside I knew that no one would ever want to marry me?
I sat up, my heart pounding. For the first time in my life, it was as if I could see my whole future opening up before me, the future God had in mind and not the one I’d cut and stitched for myself. In His version, I wasn’t alone. I was with a helpmate. A soulmate. A partner.
And whether that husband ended up being Isaac or someone else, I realized I did want to be married. Suddenly I wanted it more than I’d ever wanted anything in my life. Overwhelmed by a piercing need, it was as if years of yearning that had been tamped down out of sight were finally being set free. Swallowing back a sob, I slipped from the bed, got to my knees, closed my eyes, and brought all of it to the Lord. The pain. The loneliness. The insecurity. The self-deception. The lack of trust. I prayed for an hour, maybe more. He took it all, in His wide-open arms and nail-scarred hands, leaving me, in the end, unburdened, comforted, and at peace.
I ended my prayer and got back in bed. I knew I wouldn’t change overnight. And I knew that by admitting to myself that I wanted a marriage, I was setting myself up for potential heartbreak. But at least I knew now what I truly wanted. Most important of all, I knew what God wanted for me.
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Remind Your Daughter She Can Always Count on God
In this life, we will experience trials. Share this excerpt from Living Your Faith: A Journey Through James with your daughter today. Remind her that the answers for dealing with tough situations can be found in God's Word.
What are your trails and tests? I'm sure you have your share of tough times! In fact, tough times are a fact of life. Jesus told us, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). Do you ever wonder, "What am I supposed to do in tough times? What am I supposed to do with my problems?"
Well, you'll be happy to hear that James has some lessons and great advice for dealing with your tough times and trials.
Learning to Count
In school you learned how to add up a column of numbers—and hopefully get the right answer! James tells us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds." The New King James Version says "Count it all joy." When you "count" or add up your sufferings and problems and disappointments what does James say is the correct answer in chapter 1, verse 2?
Read verse 2 again and think about the word "many," as in "trials of many kinds." No one wants to face and deal with even one trial! And yet James speaks of many kinds of trials. Maybe you have already experienced several kinds of trials, like...
—a tough decision to do the right thing
—a tragedy in your family
—a serious illness
—facing a mean girl every day in school
—struggling with a difficult subject in school
Well, here's some very good news! God does not ask you or any of His people to understand our trials. But He does want us to trust Him and His wisdom and His plan for us. When you do this—you will find joy in Him, joy in His promises, and joy in His perfect will for your wonderful, special, unique life!
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Gaze on the Celestial Wonders of Easter
Growing up as preacher’s kids, my brothers and I always considered the Easter sunrise service to be a highlight of our year. As we waited for the peach-glow of the sun to conquer the dark horizon, we could feel the kiss of spring in the air, even though our Colorado landscape was usually still swaddled in snow.
Easter sunrise was a sight to behold. Light invading darkness, death surrendering to life. The symbolism was lost on no one.
Also, donuts and hot chocolate were served.
Of course, the wonders of Easter don’t fade at sunset. Stargazing on Easter night—or anytime during the Lenten season? You should try it.
Stargazing, as many of us wannabe astronomers know, is a misnomer. The glow reaching our eyes is thousands of years old, meaning that many of the stars we watch with wonder are really just light-ghosts. The stars themselves burned out long ago.
Our sun is a star. A majestic star to us but not so grand among its peers. The duo of shining stars in the Eta Carinae stellar system outshine the sun the way a blazing bonfire outshines one skinny wooden match.
Some stars are breathtaking in their brightness, others in their density. Outer space is home to neutron stars. To scoop a single spoonful of neutron-star matter, you would need a special spoon indeed. One bite-sized portion of neutron star weighs about 10 million tons—and that’s a conservative estimate. To put it in perspective, one spoonful of neutron star outweighs more than 100 massive aircraft carriers. How can this be? It’s a wonder.
But consider an even greater wonder: The power behind our sun and all the other stars is at work in us who believe in the Jesus of Easter. Paul’s letter to the Romans puts it this way: “If the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself” (Romans 8:11 MSG).
So whether you greet the Easter sun or bid goodnight to the Easter stars, or both, remember your friend in high places. The highest of places. The Lord who built the universe wants to show up in your life in stellar ways. So keep looking up.
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Why You Don’t Have to Be Good Enough
Posted on Mar 27, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Sharon Jaynes
“I’m not good enough” was the undercurrent of my entire existence until I finally realized who I was and what I had in Christ. And I know I’m not alone. Many women are living in silent defeat, comparing themselves to other women who likewise are living in silent defeat.
I’m not a good mother. I’m not a good wife. I’m not a good Christian. I’m not a good witness. I’m not a good housekeeper. I’m not a good decorator. I’m not a good cook. I’m not a good . . .
One by one the petals fall from the beautiful flower God created us to be. Like ticker tape, our fragmented pieces of confidence scatter over the streets as the parade passes by.
Unfortunately, I wasted many precious years held captive by the enemy’s lies before I held up my chained hands to God and said, “I’m ready for You to cut me loose.”
Jacob was a liar.
Moses was a stutterer.
David was an adulterer.
Rahab was a prostitute.
Esther was an orphan.
Balaam’s donkey was… well, a donkey.
And yet God used each one of them to further His kingdom. You’re in good company. See, God doesn’t call us because we are particularly gifted or talented. He uses us because we are obedient and dependent on Him. He doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.
Gideon is another one of God’s chosen leaders who argued that he wasn’t good enough. One day he was threshing wheat in a winepress when an angel of the Lord came to him. “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” the angel announced (Judges 6:12). Now, first of all, you don’t thresh wheat in a winepress. You thresh wheat in an open field by throwing it up in the air. The wind blows the chaff away and the grain falls to the ground. So what was Gideon doing in the winepress? He was so terrified of his enemies, the Midianites, that he was hiding. And yet, when the angel of the Lord came to him, he addressed Gideon as “mighty warrior.” No wonder Gideon said, “Pardon me?” (6:13,15).
As soon as God called Gideon to greater things, Gideon began making excuses. Gideon allowed his insecurities and inadequacies to set limitations in his life. Gideon argued, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (6:15).
But God looked beyond Gideon’s insecurities. He knew who Gideon could be if he trusted in God’s power to work through him. The truth is, we can never go so far away from God that His grace can’t reach in to save us, and then use us.
Are you ready to let go of your insecurities and allow God to use you?
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What Do Rainbows Really Mean?
The most visible reminder of the Flood today is, of course, the rainbow. So it's not surprising that one of the most common questions people have about the Flood is: Why did God give the sign of the rainbow anyway?
Noah and his family had just come through an unimaginably frightening experience. It’s possible they had never even seen a storm, and certainly not one like this. It would remain constant in their memories for years to come. During the Flood, the winds howled incessantly and the thunder pealed continually as the Ark pitched and rolled in the waves. Earthquakes rocked the planet without stop, sending pulsating tsunamis in every direction. Underwater volcanoes and the spreading “fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11) heated the water surrounding the Ark, making life on board almost unbearable. Continuous rainfall pelted the Ark’s roof, as if it were passing under Niagara Falls.
This was not merely a Category 5 hurricane. Creationists speculate about hypercanes—storms dozens of times greater than present-day hurricanes. Surely the pre-Flood world fully “perished” (2 Peter 3:6) under such an onslaught.
As Noah and his family stepped off the Ark, they entered a world totally unfamiliar to them. The geography had all changed. Plant and animal life had been devastated. Weather patterns were chaotic. Gone was the pre-Flood stability they were accustomed to. Contrast that to the relative stability we enjoy today. It would perhaps have taken several centuries for Earth to settle down to the present pseudo-equilibrium. After all, the jet streams would have needed time to stabilize. The ocean currents had to find their “paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:8). The continents had to halt their rapid horizontal movements and cease their vertical uplift. In particular, the oceans would have needed time to give up their excess heat, which would have caused further violent storm patterns.
It was into this unstable world Noah and his family disembarked. No doubt earthquakes were common. Of necessity they lived in tents because it was not possible to make structures that would have withstood the earthquakes. Wood was in short supply, and rock structures were the least safe.
Rainfall continued with swollen streams and violent storms. Calculations show that the ocean’s heat would have taken at least 600 years or so to dissipate, and that during this period the Ice Age dominated. Job lived soon after the Flood, and his book contains more references to ice and snow than the rest of the Bible put together. Up until perhaps the time of Abraham, the world was quite a dangerous place on account of many natural catastrophes.
No doubt Noah’s family needed reassurance that there would never be another Flood like the one they had just experienced. Thus, it was out of God’s grace and mercy that He instituted this beautiful reminder of His protection. And every time they saw a rainbow, it would serve as a majestic reminder of the security they have in Him. (Genesis 9:9-17)
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Discover the True Heart of a Champion
The games of the thirty-first Olympiad in Rio provided thrilling competition. When the games closed, there were many reasons to celebrate: fewer illnesses than expected, fewer crimes, and no massive outbreak of the Zika virus.
Yes, there was Ryan Lochte and his antics, but that didn’t overshadow the truly great moments. Michael Phelps owned the pool once again. Two Simones shone—Biles in gymnastics and Manuel in swimming. The U.S. women swept the 110-meter hurdles. But the finest moment of the games had nothing to do with medals and everything to do with mettle.
By now, most everyone has seen the dramatic images of U.S. 5,000-meter runner Abbey D’Agostino tripping and tumbling over New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who had fallen in front of her during a qualifying heat. As you probably know, D’Agostino rose, helped a distraught Hamblin up, and then encouraged her to finish the race. “Get up,” she said. “We have to finish this.”
If you don’t know the rest of the story, there was a slight problem. As she started to run, D’Agostino realized her right knee wasn’t cooperating. She had torn her ACL and meniscus and strained her MCL. She collapsed in pain. But that’s not the end of the story.
D’Agostino got up again and hobbled around the track. Seventeen minutes and ten seconds later, she finished the race. At the finish line, she was met with a wheelchair and an awestruck Hamblin.
Olympic athletes prepare for a lifetime for one brief moment to reach for the ultimate crown. It seems that Abbey D’Agostino had prepared for a lifetime for her moment, just the way it unfolded.
“Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can, and have, rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way,” she said in the aftermath. “This whole time here, He’s made it clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance—and as soon as Nikki got up, I knew that was it.”
Said Hamblin afterward, “I’m never going to forget that moment.”
Neither will I.
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A Spark of Suspense Sets a Mystery Ablaze
Posted on Mar 15, 2018 Topic : Fiction
Eva Lapp is twenty-nine years old and over the hill when it comes to finding a good Amish husband. To Eva's surprise, her first love, Jake Miller, suddenly returns to Lancaster County. When a mysterious fire rages in an Amish neighbor's barn, will Eva's old flame, Jake, be the one who gets blamed?
By the time Jake and I caught up with his dog, Missy, she was at the barn sniffing under the door. I couldn’t get it open. “Jake, help me.”
“Are you sure you want to go in there?”
“Yah, we have to now.”
“Sniff the air,” Jake said.
I inhaled. “Cigarette smoke?” We both turned our flashlights to the hayloft above.
“No one would be stupid enough to smoke up there.” I hoped not, anyway. “A hayloft is a tinderbox waiting for a spark.”
“Who’s up there?” Jake placed his foot on the wooden ladder rung. “Show yourself or I’m climbing up to find out for myself.”
“Be careful, Jake.”
I hoped no one was there, but the floorboards in the loft creaked. Bits of hay floated down like feathers.
“Ralph?” I called. “Is that you?”
“What of it?” Ralph’s words were garbled and sloppy. “I sleep here all the time, and the Amish owner has never complained.”
Jake scaled another rung. “He would if he knew you smoked. Look, your cigarette butt started a fire!” Jake’s voice emanated panic. I could hear him trying to stamp out the flames, without success. He leaned over and tossed me his cell phone. “Call 9-1-1!”
From the hayloft, crackling erupted. “Go down,” Jake told Ralph. “Hurry.” But Ralph ignored him.
The crackling, burning straw gained momentum, sounding like an oncoming locomotive.
“Evie, let the mares and cow out.” Jake ran to the stallion and opened his stall.
I pulled off my sweater and covered one of the frantic mare’s heads. I felt a metal shoe gouge into my leg—but no time to look. I led the blinded mare out of the barn, and the other followed. Both galloped into the descending darkness.
As Jake struggled with the stallion, I unclipped and led the bawling cow outside, but I had nowhere to tie her.
The sky lit up from the flames. The heat increased.
A thunderous noise above reminded me of a jet flying too low. Flames leaped and danced. Sparks flew. The heat grew unbearable.
Jake grabbed a rope halter and maneuvered it onto the stallion’s head. He seized control of the frantic horse and forced it out of the barn, and then gave its rump a whack. It bolted into the darkness.
The multiplying flames were hypnotizing me. I tried to breathe, to fill my lungs. I gulped for air and put my hand in front of my face to ward off the heat.
“Come out, Evie.” Jake grasped my hand and pulled me to safety.
A moment later, the blazing loft collapsed, as loud as a stick of exploding dynamite. I thought my eardrums would burst.
“Thank you, Lord,” I said, knowing no one but God could hear me.
Sirens screamed in the distance, traveling our way. The whole barn was a blistering furnace, illuminating the sky.
Will Eva and Jake be able to overcome the many obstacles in their way and find the redemption they both desperately need?
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Turn to Prayer to Change Your Marriage
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
We know that prayer has the power to change people and situations. But how often do you really pray purposefully for your spouse? This guided prayer can offer insight, and help you approach the Lord with confidence as you commit to pray daily for your husband. Start with this prayer of praise, followed by offering specific prayers for your husband, and close with the prayer of blessing and intervention.
Heavenly Father, You are the source of everything we need. You promise that You will supply all of our needs according to Your riches in glory. But You ask that my husband and I put You first as a part of the process of obtaining all that we need. You ask that we seek You first. It is only when You are first in my husband’s life that Your provision flows freely through and to him in the marketplace. Thank You for showing us the key that You are the ultimate source of fulfilling our needs, not his work or our finances. Thank You for taking such amazing care of Your creation with the birds and lilies in the fields, and You even know the number of hairs on our heads! I praise You that not only do You make Your unlimited abundance available to us as our Lord, but that You also encourage us to never doubt Your provision and loyal care for us, no matter what the present circumstances may appear to be. I praise You that You do all things well and always have our best interests at heart.
Present the Situation
Use this portion to mention to God the times you’ve seen your husband put Him first. Ask God to show your husband much favor when he makes the hard decisions that come from putting Him first in all things. It’s good to be as specific in your prayers as you can. Focus on the particular areas where you feel that your husband could grow with regard to looking to God and His viewpoint first. Also, mention areas where you feel he could grow in putting God first in his time, with his talents, and with your finances. Praise the Lord for those times when He asked you to sacrifice financially and you responded in faith and put His wishes first and denied yourself something that you really wanted. Encourage your husband when he wrestles through the tests that God sends to him to put the Lord first.
Pray for Blessing and Intervention
Gracious Lord, the success of our home depends a great deal on how well my husband puts You first in his heart, mind, and soul. Help him to see the cause and effect relationship between his relationship with You and Your intervention and provision in our home, his career, our church, and his community impact. Give him practical ways to nourish and nurture his prioritization of Your will through a relational abiding with You. Provide him with friends who will also encourage and model for him what it means to put You first in every area of his life. Thank You, in Christ’s name, amen.
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3 Ways to Restore the Romance with Your Husband
Posted on Mar 08, 2018 Topic :
Posted by : Cindi McMenamin
Do you remember the joy you experienced as a newlywed?
I do. Those memories came flooding back to me the day I found a stack of old, yellowed papers in my top dresser drawer. Love letters written by my husband nearly 30 years ago containing phrases any woman would want to read over and over again. Phrases like “I love you beyond expression” and “You complete me like no other.”
As I read through those old love letters, my eyes teared up. And then my heart dropped.
How I wanted to be married to THAT man again. That man who wrote me those letters and thought the world of me.
But then it occurred to me. How he must want to be married to THAT woman again!
I set out to become the woman to whom he penned those words. And as I did, I found he quickly became the man who could write them to me again.
No matter how long we’ve been married, we could all use a refresher, a pick-me-up, something new (or old) to try to renew and re-glue the relationship so we can bring back the romance. As I was writing my book, 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, it occurred to me that the actions on the part of a wife can make all the difference in a marriage. I took steps to remove the baggage, rebuild love, and recapture my husband’s heart. Here are three simple ways you can experience more with your husband:
1. Respond to Him Like a New Wife
Remember when you were a brand-new bride? Oh, what a feeling! You couldn’t wait until the two of you got off work so you could be together again. You constantly checked your text or voice mail messages. You had a special sparkle in your eyes when you talked of him and a spring in your step when you walked alongside him. What would it take to get back that loving feeling for him? If you’re waiting for him to do something different, I guarantee he will when YOU start responding to him like you once did when you were a new wife.
2. Reframe What You Say to Him
Most of the baggage in marriage comes from careless, hurtful, or accusing words we tend to say to one another. We often didn’t even intend for those words to sound the way they did. Ephesians 4:29 instructs: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” So, instead of saying “Are you going to wear THAT to dinner?” Say, “I’d love it if you’d wear that blue shirt you look great in.” Instead of saying, “Why don’t we go out on dates anymore?” Try, “I miss spending time alone with you.” Before the words exit your mouth, ask yourself, “Will this encourage him and make him believe I’m in his corner?” If the answer is no, don’t say it at all.
3. Refuse to Dwell on the Negatives
Every relationship has memories and situations we need to let go so we can move forward. Negative thoughts and memories may creep up, but don’t let them run rampant in your mind. Practice 2 Corinthians 10:5, which instructs us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Stop negative thinking, and remember why you fell in love with your husband in the first place. Was it his tenderness? The way he made you laugh? His dependability and faithfulness? Focus on his positive qualities–even ones you believe you haven’t seen in a while–and you just might start noticing them again.
What are the qualities that made you fall in love with your husband?
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Encourage Your Daughter to Join God’s Story
Every night, I read a Bible story to my daughter, Norah. One evening several years ago, I was searching for one with a brave woman of God. And I chose Ruth.
And my heart sank.
The moral of the story, according to this particular children’s Bible? “God blessed Ruth for her kindness and provided her with a husband named Boaz.”
No mention of her bravery. Her remarkable faith. Or her ancestry in the line of Christ.
Instead, Ruth has to be rescued by a husband.
On the next page is the story of David and Goliath. And the moral of the story provides a stark contrast to Ruth’s: “Everyone cheered because David had defeated the giant.”
Wait. Wasn’t Ruth also victorious? Imagine journeying to an unknown land with no promise in your future—except the guarantee of destitution as a foreign widow, the lowest rung of society. Still Ruth has the strength and bravery to leave everything to trust in Yahweh. And the God of the Universe commends Ruth for her faith and courage. But, all of this is missing in the children’s story.
The juxtaposition of David’s and Ruth’s stories in the children’s Bible made me reflect, What are we teaching our daughters through our Bible stories?
We want our daughters to grow up strong and brave, yet are we depicting strong and brave women in Scripture?
We want our daughters to be full of faith, but are we reinforcing that men have faith to slay giants wile women must be rescued by godly men?
We want our daughters to follow their God-given passions and vocations, but is our secular culture leading the way in providing passionate and gutsy role models like in Disney’s Frozen and Moana?
While I affirm the many examples of brave female heroines in secular culture, strong women already exist in Scripture!
Faith-filled adventurers, they take risks to unleash the Kingdom of God. They are disciples, evangelists, prophets, moms, philanthropists, businesspeople, and political and spiritual leaders.
Here is a sampling of the Bible heroines my daughter Norah and I have been enjoying together when we read Bible stories in the evenings:
Miriam- a prophet, she is accredited in Micah 6:4 as leading the nation of Israel along with her brothers, Moses and Aaron.
Deborah - called by God as a prophet and leader of the Israelite nation, she delivers the people from their enemies.
Tabitha - a disciple who was raised from the dead, she champions the plight of the poor.
Priscilla - a teacher in the early Church, she and her best friend (and husband) Aquila start house churches on two continents and instruct some of the foremost teachers of the emerging church.
And there are many more!
So, tonight, when I read Bible stories to my daughter Norah, we celebrate together the many brave and adventurous women in Scripture—some who have led nations, rescued their people from genocide, and ministered and walked with Christ!
Watch the brand new trailer for Rachel's latest book below:
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How to Make Your Living Area Lovable
Posted on Mar 01, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Perhaps no room causes as much organization confusion as the living room. It’s often hard to assess our needs in this space. Maybe you’ve been led to believe that every home needs a formal living room, so you’ve created just that, but then you find you don’t use it. Perhaps this space sits unused, yet the rest of your house doesn’t have enough space to accommodate your needs. Or maybe your living room has morphed into a catchall of activity, but it’s so chock-full of stuff that nobody can actually relax or accomplish much of anything in there.
Give yourself permission to repurpose this space in a way that works for your family. Make it attractive so you’ll be drawn to enjoy it, but practical and sensible enough to be useful for this season of life. A living room doesn’t have to be fancy, and it shouldn’t be just wasted space. Make this a room a room you can actually live in.
Do you long to gather some friends together to start a book club or other group? Do your kids need a good hangout space for their friends—or do you need hangout space of your own for when friends or neighbors stop by? Do you dream of family fun nights?
When you’re organizing your living space, focus on the word living. What kind of memories do you want to make? What will bring laughter to your home? What kind of environment will foster long conversations and sharing?
Set the Stage for Family Fun
If you dream of family game nights around a real board game, stop dreaming and clear out that armoire or those cluttered shelves in your living room and create an organized space for family games. Donate any games you haven’t played in forever and keep only your favorites. You can also swap games with friends to determine if you really want to own them (or just keep a lending library going).
Create an Inviting Space
People stay where they feel comfortable. Cozy couches and chairs need to be cleared of stuff before people will consider making themselves at home. Also, concentrate on eliminating the clutter from coffee tables or end tables. And sometimes a soft rug (again, free of stuff!) is the best place for a casual hangout.
Make Your Living Area Perfectly Imperfect
Don’t feel that you need to have a perfectly picked-up living room. Too pristine can sometimes be as unsettling as too messy. If guests feel uncomfortable sitting in your space, they won’t stay long. Scattered books, family photos, a game in progress on an ottoman, fresh flowers from the garden, or some knitting in a basket by the sofa all say, “We live here. We have fun here. We make memories here.”
Set up your living room to be organized and used for what you truly need and love. Feel free to change things up as the needs of you and your family change. Surround yourself with things that matter now. Decorate with items that put a smile on your face. Organize with fun, communication, and connection in mind. Above all, your living space is for you. Make it your own, make it work for you, and make it work for your family.
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5 Compelling Questions with An Amish Suspense Author
Posted on Feb 27, 2018 Topic : Fiction
Who the Bishop Knows tells the story of Amish bishop Henry Lapp, whose uncanny ability to solve crimes is put to the ultimate test. Author Vannetta Chapman stopped by to answer some questions about this book and the others in The Amish Bishop Mysteries series.
Q: Amish suspense is such an interesting genre, especially considering the Amish belief in non-violence. What are the challenges of creating a suspenseful plot and incorporating that story into an Amish setting?
A: Definitely it is a challenge to balance the gentle, pastoral Amish setting that we all think of when we think of Amish with the gritty scene of a murder investigation. I think the key is to allow for problems that the rest of the world faces, but to emphasize the Amish response to those problems is a bit different—gentler, calmer, more forgiving. Of course, in this instance, there's still a killer to be caught.
Q: What was the inspiration behind The Amish Bishop Mysteries?
A: As with many of my novels, it all began with a small news story. This one was about accidental savants—the skills they have and the challenges they face. Rather than being born was savant abilities, these people suffered some sort of injury—usually a traumatic brain injury—that resulted in their having unusual abilities. I spoke to an Amish gentlemen a few years ago who was a wonderful baseball pitcher and was scouted by a pro baseball team. Those two things came together in my mind and the character of Bishop Henry Lapp was born. Henry's special ability is that he is able to draw anything that he sees. He doesn't possess a photographic memory (which scientists say is an impossibility), but his hand can draw anything that his subconscious remembers...and his subconscious remembers everything. For Henry, this is both a blessing and a curse.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this series? Did you learn anything interesting during your research?
A: In addition to learning about savants, I visited the small Amish community in Monte Vista, Colorado where the book takes place. It's a very different setting from what you might find in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Indiana. And the natural beauty of the area—from the migration of the cranes to the Great Sand Dunes National Park to Colorado's oldest rodeo—provided a fun backdrop to tell my story against. But the Amish life is much the same in spite of the fact that these Colorado Amish live in a high desert valley and use solar energy. There's still the focus on faith and community and hard work.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main character, Bishop Henry Lapp, and how/why he ends up in the middle of these mysteries?
A: Readers' response to Henry has really touched my heart. I think we all are drawn to a grandfather type character. Henry isn't perfect by any means—the fact that he was "chosen" to be a bishop at first puzzled him as much as anyone, especially given his savant abilities which many people are uncomfortable with. However, Henry's real gift is his compassion for people. He's more than just a bishop or a sleuth, he's a dear friend to folks within his Amish community, and he cares about the Englisch community as well. I guess Henry is everything that I remember and love about my own grandfather—kind, gentle, fun, wise, and a little mischievous.
Q: Without revealing too much, can you tell us about what Henry faces in Who the Bishop Knows?
A: In the first two books of this series (What the Bishop Saw and When the Bishop Needs an Alibi), Henry learns to embrace his unusual gift. He finally accepts that God has a reason for making him exactly how he is, and that God will use this strange gift for good things. But in Who the Bishop Knows, Henry doesn't see anything--he doesn't witness the murder, he's observed no clues, he wasn't even present when the murder occurred. Instead of relying on his abilities, Henry turns to what might be an even more important gift--his ability to understand people. If he can focus on who he knows, not what he knows, he might be able to save those in his community from danger. Henry has to trust that God is still in control of the situation around them, and that even from evil, He can bring good.
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How to Know the Difference Between Guilt and Shame
Do you suffer from a guilty conscience? Are you plagued by shame? Do you even know which one you are feeling?
You might not realize it, but there is a difference between the two. Guilt is the bad feeling you have for doing something you should not have done. Shame is the bad feeling of regret for being an inadequate person.
Guilt is about what you did; shame is about who you are. Neither feel good.
The Bible has a lot to say about guilt. Mostly, it feels bad but exists to help us. Paul talks about a “godly sorrow” that leads people to repentance and produces good things in their lives (2 Corinthians 7:11). This is a useful tool for anyone with a conscience. This is healthy guilt, because it is motivated by love. Healthy guilt motivates you to do the right thing to restore damaged relationships.
But not all guilt is productive. Some guilt is not motivated by love but rooted in fear. It is not about making amends, or figuring out the loving thing to do to make things right in your relationships. It is about self-preservation, and the fear of getting caught. This kind of guilt is not really about making things right with others. It’s about saving your own skin.
One way to know whether the guilt you feel is the healthy kind is to ask yourself these questions: Do I feel bad because I have hurt someone and want to bring it out into the open for healing, even if I have to risk looking foolish? Or, do I feel bad about something and hope no one will ever bring it up again?
If the fear of getting caught wins out, then you are suffering from an unhealthy guilt. This guilt acts as a form of self-punishment that substitutes for restored relationships. It’s the kind of guilt that will keep you stuck.
Shame feels bad, too. But it is different from guilt. Shame is the painful feeling of disconnection from others that comes from feeling defective. You may think you feel bad because of things you have done but the truth is shame is the bad feeling you have about yourself, and you had that feeling long before you committed any of the things you think caused it. If in fact, your shame is probably the reason you did the things you did wrong in the first place.
The good news is, after you identify whether you are feeling guilt or shame, you can overcome it. If guilt is about what you do, and shame is about who you are, then to manage your guilt, you must do things differently, but to deal with your shame, you must actually be willing to be different.
Are you ready to face your guilt and shame in order to change your life today? By identifying your feelings, you’ve already taken the first step.
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Are You Missing God’s Greater Blessing?
Posted on Feb 20, 2018 Topic : Inspirational/Devotional
Posted by : Susie Larson
Tell them not to leave the well.
The whisper came across my heart and made it beat faster. I was at a conference I had spent weeks preparing for. I had spent days fasting and praying over what message I would share. Now it was almost time for me to go up and speak, and I was caught completely off guard.
Again, the still, small voice whispered, Tell them not to leave the well. This time I could see a picture in my mind of an old, strong well made from large stones. It was virtually untouched because around it for miles were thousands of makeshift wells, which were really just holes in the ground.
I suddenly had an overwhelming sense that many of the women in the crowd had come to this retreat empty, depleted, and thirsty. I sensed that many of them, out of desperation, often turned to counterfeit sources for a quick relief from pain, loneliness, insecurity, or anger. By turning to the quick fix, they missed the greater blessing God had for them.
How many of us have read of Jesus breaking custom by approaching the Samarian woman at the well? It’s true that they were of different backgrounds, which ordinarily would have provided a barrier to even speaking. But if we focus on all the reasons the conversation shouldn’t have happened, we miss the point. Jesus didn’t go to the well to fill his thirst, but to fill hers.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
There at the conference, I found myself with a choice to make. I had one idea about how the weekend should go, and God had another.
For the next few days I found myself utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit’s direction for every message I gave. Because I longed for security and something to hold on to, I was tempted at times to rely on the notes I brought with me—my own quick fix. And yet by releasing that security and relying on Jesus to be my well, I saw the supernatural unfold before me.
I challenge you now, as I did that weekend, don’t leave the well. Don’t be so uncomfortable with your pain that you rush to a quick fix to cover it up. In your loneliness, in your hard times, and in your waiting, stay by the well until the true, pure water comes. He will come for you. He will bring healing and a new direction for your lives.
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Seeing Your Home and Yourself the Way God Does
I still remember the first day I fell in love with my house. It was early on a spring morning when the sun was shining and the birds were chirping and fluffy white clouds were floating by in a blue sky. I poured a cup of coffee and walked from room to room—waking up the house along the way. I fluffed the pillows in the living room and told it how beautiful it was. I straightened the curtains in the dining room and reminded the dining room chairs they were amazing. I stacked bowls in the dishwasher and whispered softly to the kitchen that it was my favorite room in the house.
My house is loved; however, it isn’t perfect. Not even close. But here’s the thing…
…neither am I.
It took me a long time to figure out how to embrace the me that I am. I spent years trying to have the perfect house and the perfect me. I wasted so much time comparing my beginning to someone else’s ending. I looked at the green grass on the other side of the fence and felt like my house was inadequate—like my house was never going to be good enough. I wanted to click my ruby red slippers together and transform my home and myself into someone taller and skinnier with perfect hair who could rock a prairie skirt, concho belt, and Lee Press-On Nails.
And then? One day I stopped comparing. I stopped hoping and wishing and planning and dreaming for something I wasn’t and embraced the me that had been there all along. The me that was created by an incredible, amazing, awe-inspiring God who designed me with a plan and a purpose. I’m imperfect and distressed and worn around the edges with flaws and weaknesses and I’m a sinner saved by grace.
Every detail. Every line. Every flaw.
I want you to discover the joy found in creating a haven for your family, one where every member feels loved, safe, and special. I want to share that every home, including yours, is one-of-a-kind. Every home is meant to be loved right where it is on the journey.
Just like you.
You are perfect in God’s sight.
Just as you are.
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Let God Write Your Love Story
Why do love stories draw us in? I think it’s because we each long for our own happily ever after, and if you’re a mom you pray for your children to find lifelong love. Love stories give us hope and inspire us to believe that true love—forever love—not only exists but is alive and well in average couples whose depth of love makes them anything but average.
When our son Tony was in the ROTC at Texas A&M University, he was the head of his unit. One woman under his command had a hard time keeping up with the men when they ran a great distance. When they arrived at their destination without her, they were chastised and required to do push-ups until she arrived. As commander, Tony needed to be sure she kept up the pace with the rest of the unit, so he ran in back alongside her. With both of their eyes focused on their destination, Tony would place his hand on the small of her back and she would keep up the pace. When he removed his hand, she lagged behind.
The Bible says that, as Christ followers, we’re running a race He has set before us. He calls us to keep our eyes fixed on Him, the author and finisher of our faith, and to shake off whatever easily besets us in our pursuit to finish well.
It’s tempting to take your eyes off the prize of Christ and focus on other distractions. But like the woman in Tony’s unit, you are called to run this race of life with your focus on the One who calls you to run.
Happily-ever-after doesn’t always end like the fairy tales. True happiness does not rest in a life without trouble. Rather, it comes when you discover the secret of finding your worth and joy in Christ alone. As you learn to pursue loving God first and foremost, your focus will be on Him and His plan for your life—rather than looking for happiness in how well you are loved by someone else. I pray God grants you true romance as Christ’s love spills over into your own love story.
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Should We Give Our Children the World?
What parent doesn’t want to give their children the world? After all, they are our lives. We invest everything we have, hoping they’ll succeed. From piano and dance lessons, to lacrosse and soccer teams, we strive to develop well-rounded children.
But at the core of every essential thing our children learn, is the ability to read. Aside from knowing Christ, it is the key that opens a child’s world. Mary M. Bethune (1875-1955), knew that well, stating, “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.” One of 17 children born to former slaves, Mary grew up in poverty. Had she never learned to read, Mary never would have graduated from Scotia Seminary, or attended Moody Bible Institute. She never would have become a leading American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, or civil rights activist. She never would have been an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Had Mary never learned to read, her world would not have opened. Something tells me, someone in Mary’s life knew the value in reading.
Knowing that a child’s ability to read is the gateway to their world, our desire should be to instill a love for reading deep within them. We should want our children opening books with unbridled eagerness and anticipation, as if the greatest journey were about to begin. As a writer, I know that’s what I want to help instill.
So, in the tradition of timeless classics like Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh, I wrote The Tales of Buttercup Grove, illustrated by Michal Sparks. This four-book series for children 4-8, invites children to come along side Skunk, Raccoon, and the rest of their woodland friends, as they embark on a series of adventures in Buttercup Grove. Throughout each story, children learn Christian values such as sharing, compassion, kindness, encouragement, and patience. Although the reading level is geared for children 4+, they can be read as picture books to those younger.
As we do our best to instill a love of reading in our children, let’s do it with the same gusto we want them to have. So let’s grab a book, place a child on our lap, and pass on our enthusiasm. A child’s love for reading will open their world to adventures they may otherwise never have.
So yes, I think it’s quite alright if we give our children the world. Wouldn’t you agree?
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Enjoy the Simple Deliciousness of This Homestyle Recipe
Posted on Feb 06, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Winter is such a beautiful season. It gives us permission to pause, to rest, to breathe. And I mean breathe. Cold sets in, and all I want to do is cozy up under a blanket and rest. Just as the ground is resting, my soul needs rest. This is why I like winter.
Chicken Noodle Casserole
This recipe serves 10 to 12
1 (8 oz.) pkg. noodles
¾ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 T. oil
½ cup butter, melted
¹⁄ ₃ cup flour
1 (10 oz.) cream of mushroom soup
2 cups chicken broth
4 oz. Havarti cheese
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Bring 5 cups of salted water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
While the noodles are boiling, heat the oil in a skillet and then add the chicken. Cook until done. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and then sprinkle on the flour; whisk together. When blended, stir in the soup and the chicken broth. Then add the Havarti cheese, noodles, chicken, and salt and pepper. Stir until combined well.
Transfer the chicken and noodle mixture to a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Top with the Parmesan cheese and bake for 20 minutes.
This winter and every season, give your family hearty, home-cooked meals made with love.
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How to Bravely Entrust Your Children to Jesus
In Christendom we toss around this phrase casually: “I surrendered that to God.” We sing it in songs all the time. When we say we surrender something to Christ, we mean we are turning it over to Him. We’ve decided to quit fighting and we recognize His authority over us.
I love that powerful idea, but I was absolutely floored when I began studying and found that Scripture doesn’t use that word to describe the process we’re talking about. The use of the word surrender in Hebrew is strictly applicable for surrendering to another man, as in troop to troop after a battle. In no instance is the word used in relation to what man does toward God.
Don’t get me wrong, though—the idea is there. Scripture uses other words to describe what man does when overcome with the realization that God is infinitely more powerful and worthy than he is. It uses words like submit, succumb, self-denial, yield, commit, and my favorite, entrust.
This is such a relief to me. We’re not in a battle with God, and we don’t need to quit fighting Him. Besides, the warrior instinct inside us is alive and strong, and there will be no giving up when it comes to protecting and defending our children. The word surrender just doesn’t seem to apply. But oh, the blessing of entrusting.
Entrusting means giving over the responsibility, putting something into another’s care or protection. This is what my heart longs for when it’s overwhelmed by my inability to keep my children safe, healthy, protected, obedient, and faithful. I desperately desire to assign the responsibility to someone who will not fail at the task, who cares even more than I do.
I believe Jesus came to this same realization. He did not surrender to the Enemy. But rather, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23 ESV, emphasis added).
Friends, I think we must consider our entrusting with eyes wide open. God does not promise our families perfect health, financial prosperity, worldly success, or even safety in this world. He will not hand us back everything we lay down. Some of the most godly families I know have faced unspeakable loss.
Christ shows us, though, that although God may choose suffering for us, we can entrust to Him everything of great worth, knowing He truly empathizes with our pain. During our darkest hour, we may find a depth of fellowship with our Savior we would know in no other way.
Father, I’m so grateful that You have experienced the releasing of a child. This means You aren’t standing at a distance from this process of entrusting my family to You. Forgive me for the ways I am allowing fear and doubt to cloud my belief in You. Teach me to rest in Your steadfast, unchanging character. You can have my children. I trust You. Amen.
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How Adopting Made Me a Better Human Being
I awake early on a Monday morning to begin my typical weekday routine in my household. I do a quick workout at our local gym, rush home while I chug water, wake my kids up, head to the kitchen to make lunches, simultaneously start breakfast, give a check to backpacks, gently remind my kids to get up again, warm the car up for carpool, consider pouring ice cold water over the stragglers who are still sleeping, and kiss the heads of the ones who have made it downstairs in relatively good time.
They rub their eyes, stretch, grumble, and may toss a few items my direction. None of them like getting up before the sun. I smile and return my attention to the task at hand. Getting them out the door on time for another day of school. As I slap peanut butter and jelly on slices of bread, I smile.
Then, this thought hits me; I couldn’t imagine my life without my children. I couldn’t have scripted a better story than the one I’m living out, all thanks to adoption. It has made me a better person. Here are 4 reasons why this is true:
It’s made me the best version of myself
The way I look at humanity, people who are different from me, and the world around me has totally changed, in part, to the adoption journey. Over the past 16 years, my wife Kristin and I have encountered so many situations that have knocked us completely out of our comfort zone and I’m better for it. I’ve discovered the world is much bigger than me and the tiny hearts of the precious children I am blessed to care for in this life have reminded me of this.
It has increased my capacity to love others
I’ve often said that adoption is not a question of your capacity to love others. It’s a question of choice. What will you choose to do with your heart? This amazing journey has taught me just how true this is. I love my children as if I did create them biologically. Love is not dependent on DNA or biology. Love is dependent on what you choose to do with your heart.
It’s made me less selfish
Before we began the adoption journey, I was a very selfish person. I thought only of myself, my plans, my wants, my needs, and my perspective. I’m still learning how to not be selfish, but it’s very true of my life before having children. I resisted the adoption journey in the beginning because I didn’t understand it, but also because I thought my life, the perfect life I thought I would live, would be disrupted. And it was. And I’m glad. This journey has humbled me and showed me, clearly, that this is not about me.
It’s taught me what family truly is
Just as love is not dependent on DNA or biology neither is family. I now realize your family is made up of the people you choose to live life with. The thought never crosses my mind that my family isn’t real because we are not biologically related. My children still call me “Daddy” and I call them “Sons” and “Daughters.”
The world has all kinds of opinions and perspectives on adoption. Some downplay the power of it, others say it’s wrong because they believe children should always remain with their birth parents. Some are indifferent. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’m eternally grateful for our choice to adopt.
Is this journey perfect? Absolutely not.
Is it worth it? Absolutely!
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Why Certain Numbers Stand Out in the Book of Revelation
Posted on Jan 25, 2018 Topic : Prophecy
Symbolic numbers in the Bible can be fascinating. Not all numbers in the Bible have a special meaning (such as the number of years each king reigned in Israel); many are simply statements of fact. On the other hand, certain numbers seem to appear repeatedly throughout the Bible.
Symbolic and prophetic numbers are especially signiﬁcant in the book of Revelation. However, these are also real numbers that point to real events.
Three is the symbolic number of the Trinity. It is one of John’s favorite numbers, and he constantly expresses himself in triplets: He blesses the one who reads, those who hear, and those who heed the prophecy (Revelation 1:3). Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness, the ﬁrstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5 NASB). The Lord God is and was and is to come (1:8).
The number three also ﬁgures prominently in several passages referring to judgment. Revelation contains three main series of judgments: the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. Judgment consists of basically three elements: ﬁre, smoke, and brimstone. These elements kill a third part of mankind (9:17-18). A third of the earth is burned up, as well as a third of the trees (8:7), and a third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened for a third of the day (8:12). A satanic trinity, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (16:13), oppose Christ’s reign on earth. Finally, Satan suffers a threefold defeat—on earth (12:9), into the abyss (20:1-3), and into the lake of ﬁre (20:10).
Six and Seven
Six is the number of man, who was created on the sixth day. In Revelation 13:18 it represents the most wicked man, the Antichrist.
Seven is the most signiﬁcant number in the Apocalypse. Revelation mentions seven spirits, seven churches, seven lampstands, seven stars, seven lamps of ﬁre, seven horns, seven eyes, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven songs, seven angels, seven thunders, seven “worthys,” seven heads, seven crowns, seven mountains, seven kings, and seven plagues. The frequent use of the number seven is part of the divine signature in the Apocalypse.
Twelve is the number of completeness. Israel has 12 tribes, Christ has 12 apostles, and 24 elders (a double 12) are seated around the throne. The tree of life has 12 types of fruit (22:2), the New Jerusalem has 12 gates guarded by 12 angels (21:12), and the city has 12 foundations (21:14). Twelve precious stones adorn the foundation stones and 12 pearl gates (21:19-21).
John uses these numbers to express the uniqueness and completeness of his prophecy of future events. All in all, the numerical structure of the Apocalypse makes it the most unique book in all of Scripture. The symbolic numbers in Revelation point us to God’s perfect revelation of future events, one item at a time.