Sunday, December 27, 2009

Calendar Consecration by Kim Jackson

I bought my 2010 calendar today. There were three full kiosks at the office supply store, each boasting different designs, colors, formats, and time frames. The one I picked is called a “Monthly/Weekly Planning Calendar.” It has a tagline printed under the brand name: “Design your day.” I chose a lavender way to design my days. At the present moment it has pristine 2” squares for each day of the upcoming year.

Quite a lot of each day is planned for me by others: my boss at work, my church responsibilities, the clubs and groups I belong to, doctor’s appointments, etc. Sometimes I get to fill in a few of those blank squares with things that make my heart smile: “Home for Thanksgiving,” “Writing Retreat,” “Meet Robin for lunch.”

I will write in lots of appointments and plans. The empty squares on my calendar will quickly fill up. I’ll start out writing neatly, but soon scribbles will overtake my precision.

Sometimes things have to be marked off my calendar because, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

But does life really “happen to” a believer in Christ Jesus?

Ponder this:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

There is a designer for each of my days, but I’m clear that it’s not me. So how do I cooperate with His design for the precious days He has given me?

Several years ago I started a tradition that helps me be awake and aware to God’s handwriting on my calendar. Perhaps it might help you, too.

I set aside a chunk of time near the end of the year to consecrate my calendar. I put on a favorite praise and worship CD, open my new calendar to January and write out Ephesians 2:10 at the top of the page. Then I pray something like this:

Dear Jesus,

Today, December 31, 2009, I consecrate my 2010 calendar to You. I commit the days You have given me on this planet to Your purposes.

Thank You for the gift of life. I pray that You will strengthen me to live a life that makes You smile.

Jesus, Your Word says in Ephesians 2:10 that I am Your masterpiece, Your workmanship, and that the reason You created me is to do good works which You prepared in advance for me to do.

So today, Jesus, I am asking You to fill all the little blank squares on this calendar with the things You prepared before time began, specifically with me in mind. I want to always be on Your schedule, fulfilling everything You have in mind for me to do in the minutes and months of my life.

I ask that You will guard my heart from distractions that would hinder me from fulfilling the matters You have planned. Keep me aware and awake to Your Spirit’s promptings and help me to seek Your guidance before filling up the squares on this calendar.

Father, if I run ahead or behind of your perfect plan, I claim the promise in Your Word, Romans 8:28, that even in my missteps, You will work things for good.

Father, please teach me what it means to “number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Lord, help me to recognize the enemy’s strategies that would keep me busy, but not productive; remind me often of Your truth expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:18 so that I will fix my eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Please remind me frequently that what is seen in temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

True Lord Jesus, empower me by Your Spirit to live my life with my eyes focused on what matters to You.

Lord, if you tarry and I am still walking this earth on January 1, 2011, may I be able to look back over the filled-in pages of this 2010 calendar and rejoice, knowing that I have lived well for my Master.

I love You,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Symbolism: What is on Your Christmas Tree? by Ann Wayne

It was a quiet evening at home. I sat by the fire while my black lab, Bailey, snored in the leather recliner. The chair is her favorite spot to sleep. Christmas music set the tone in the background. Memories of Christmases past brought vivid images to mind as I gazed at each ornament on the Christmas tree. My oldest son’s first ornament with his named cross stitched on a red wood stocking adorns the tree each year. A sparkly gold and clear carousel ornament for my daughter represents her senior year in high school when she was the Carousel Queen. A red bass guitar ornament for my youngest son dangles on a branch to remind me of his unexpected purchase last year. He walked in the door with the real instrument in his hands – something that was a surprise to all of us. He has never had any musical talent.

Each year, I carefully place the quilted bells, stars and stocking shaped ornaments on the tree that I made the first year I had my own tree. They are thirty something years old now and are very sentimental to me. There was simply no money to buy ornaments. As I hang these, I tell the story to my family and I’m reminded of the many blessings since that first year.

Do you get the drift? All of these ornaments represent something unique in a particular year. We have continued this tradition through the years and now I look forward to finding a special ornament for two grandchildren. Emma Grace will open her ornament with excitement from Grammy again this year and Little Benjamin will receive his first ornament for the tree. Even the dog at my house gets an ornament. But she doesn’t get to open it because it would never make it to the tree. Or at least if it did, we probably would not recognize it.

There are other ornaments on the tree that represent joy and pain. Ornaments from trips taken bring back fond memories. Others signify accomplishments of a particular year or hobbies of my family. There are lots of fish and deer on the tree and even some western ornaments on the tree from our “horse years in the 90’s.” An “angel of comfort” ornament hangs on the tree holding a small black dog. This ornament was given to my younger son the year after his father left. There is a paw print ornament representing that same dog who was hit by a car while I was out running one morning a few years ago.

But near the top of the tree hangs a Chrismon. It was given to me by my step-grandmother over twenty years ago. The ornament was hand-made by some church lady at the Lutheran church that my grandfather’s family attended for many generations. When my step-grandmother was preparing to go to heaven, she gave family members things that would have special meaning to them. She was right. The chrismon ornament is one of my favorites.

A chrismon is intended to represent aspects of the Person, life or ministry of Jesus Christ and the history of the Christian Church. It is usually a single image, emblem or monogram. The term "chrismon" comes from the Latin phrase "Christi Monogramma", meaning "monogram of Christ".

Perhaps most commonly, chrismons are used to adorn Christmas trees during Advent and Christmas, where they are made from various materials. They can also be found as decorations in and outside of Christian church buildings and homes, and even found on gravestones and personal stationary. Many of these symbols have histories dating back to the earliest times of the Church.

Even though there is only one chrismon on my Christmas tree, the Christian symbolism reminds me of the reason we have Christmas. It is in the shape of a Greek Cross. The Greek Cross has arms of equal length. This particular symbol has circles on the arms, representing eternity. The celebration of Christ’s birth this season and the reminder of his death on the cross bring all of us hope. In the four gospels, we witness the life of Christ. In Matthew 1:21, the writer portrays the big picture of Christ’s life. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” And in John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples “these things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” We have a promise from God himself, through his Son, that we can overcome adversity, struggles, sin, and temptations if we simply believe in Him and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us daily.

As you place your ornaments on the tree this year, I encourage you to hang at least one special ornament that represents the life of Christ. It will be a wonderful reminder for your family about the reason we celebrate Christmas.

May your family be blessed this holiday season!

Ann Wayne

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They Could Smell Our Christian Perfume! by Gail Purath

Two years ago, Michael and I visited Vienna on a cold, wet weekend. After tromping around in the drizzle for several hours, we ended up back in our hotel lobby close to the tea service. While sipping steaming cups of tea, an American couple came in to register for a room and initiated a conversation with us. We explained we were missionaries in Budapest, and the woman told us she had attended a Christian college.

Since this couple had been traveling together for three weeks and registered for one room, I assumed they were married. But when I asked where they lived, the woman seemed embarrassed to admit they were just friends and lived in two different states.

Michael and I said nothing to add to her discomfort. Instead, we continued in friendly conversation; and when they left for their room, we told them we enjoyed visiting with them. However, the following morning at breakfast, they barely acknowledged our greetings and walked past the empty table next to ours. I think it was our smell…

There is a whole generation of Americans who aren’t even aware that God lovingly prohibits sex outside of marriage. They think premarital sex is natural instead of realizing it is harmful to their spiritual and emotional well-being. But the couple we met in Vienna was from an older generation, and the woman had gone to Bible college. I think they understood that their relationship was neither healthy for them nor pleasing to God. And Michael and I were an uncomfortable reminder of this fact. You could say that our “Christian perfume” was offensive to them.

2 Corinthians 2:15,16 says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume...” (NLT)

Of course, this fragrance isn’t the only thing that offends people. We Christians can also emit the nasty odors of self-righteousness, legalism and superiority. Recently I read the book They Like Jesus, but Not the Church by Dan Kimbell. He talks about our tendency as Christians to talk about God’s judgment more than God’s love, to focus on what we oppose more than what we embrace. He makes some good points. It's not our job to judge those outside of the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

I’ve also read several books by Ray Comfort, a New Zealand missionary to the U.S. He believes American Christians share God’s love without sharing His law and judgment, thus deceiving people into false conversions without warning them of the consequences of sin. He makes some good points as well. God gives His commands for our good, and we have no business watering them down or ignoring them in order to make the Gospel more palatable. If a person doesn’t understand their sin, they won’t understand their need for a Savior.

It can be hard at times to explain Christ because He is just as merciful, forgiving and loving toward repentant man, as He is unforgiving and just toward unrepentant man. No wonder that the passage I quoted earlier (about our fragrance) ends with this statement: “And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (verse16b).

How do we, who bear the fragrance of Christ, give an accurate picture of Christ to those around us? How can we avoid stressing certain aspects of His character at the expense of other aspects? Some people are wallowing in regret and pain for their sin. They feel they will never be good enough to come to Christ, and we must tell them of God’s grace and love. Other people are self-satisfied. They think that they will receive God’s mercy no matter what they do or what they believe, and we must tell them of God’s purity and judgment.

But how can we know when to stress grace and when to stress purity? Who of us is adequate for the task? Our answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:5: “...our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” We have the Holy Spirit to guide us, and He knows exactly what needs to be said in any situation. Because of that—and only because of that—we are able to bear Christ’s fragrance!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seeking a Transformation by Serena Haneline

For the last three days I’ve been sequestered at La Foresta, a quaint little retreat house in Traveler’s Rest, SC. It has been a time of relaxation, rest and spiritual renewal. Most of all, it’s been a time of revelation.

I have been questioning for months what it really means to be a Christian. Surely it means more than just saying I believe in God and having accepted Jesus as my Savior 15 years ago, now just to go to church every Sunday and pray when I want something.

Of course, I know it’s not about “religion” but about a “relationship.” I’ve known that for many years, but my “relationship” with the Almighty, invisible, and holy God has been somewhat of a strained one, at least on my part. Reading the Bible, I have to admit, is harder than it should be. And it’s been hard to see God as a father when I have no point of reference.

I’m beginning to realize that it’s harder to be a Christian being surrounded by affluence and idols. I wonder if it’s not easier to follow God where poverty reigns. So many times we equate Christianity with being “blessed” and “fruitful” and comfortable. But is it?

Here lately I’m beginning to think not. Our “brand” of Christianity is not what Jesus taught the disciples to be and to do. He said to love our enemies, yet we are many times not known by our love, but by our hate. Just look at all the church divisions and the backbiting among believers.

He said that pure religion is to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1: 27). I don’t want to be like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who thought they were doing all the “right” things and following God, but were, in fact, not getting any of it. Not getting that the point of this life is loving God and other people. Nothing else matters. It’s all about bringing the kingdom of God to earth “as it is in heaven.”

Yet how many times do we walk past the broken and suffering, our pride and heads held high. All the while, crucifying Jesus with our twisted logic, our walled-up hearts, our firmly-set masks.

No wonder I feel a deep and nagging restlessness inside that tells me there is more to this life than what I’ve always known. The author of my story, the God of the universe, wants to write a better story, not just for me, but for all of us. For the whole world, because isn’t the “whole world” what Jesus came and died for?

I am finding that I don’t have to keep living the story I’ve been living—the isolated life lived in a Christian bubble that looks away from the poor and afflicted like I’m somehow better than they are. I have no righteousness apart from the righteousness Christ bestows. No one does. Our righteousness is filthy and worthless.

This life is God’s story, not ours. It’s a journey in which the destination is not even the main goal. The journey is—how we get there, and who we bring with us along the way. I am humbled in this serene place of silence and solitude. There is a whole world of hurting, suffering people who need to know there is a God and He cares. He loves and His love will endure forever.

As I took communion this morning, I heard my Abba Father say: “Allow me to open your eyes to the spiritual, to see with my eyes yourself and the world. I am writing for you a better story. Will you believe? You are the light to this world, this dark world, but I am the source of that light.”

I need to see God’s world through His eyes. So that my faith works itself out in real action. Action that is a bright, shining light to all who are blinded by the lies of the enemy, who are poor, afflicted, broken. I am on a journey to transformation and true relationship, not just with the ever-present, holy Father, but with His people, the ones He came and died for.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Every Quilt Tells a Story by Emily Carter

Every quilt tells a story. Earlier this fall, a few of my cousins joined me in the Queen City (Charlotte, NC) for a girls’ weekend. We traveled uptown and visited the Mint Museum of Craft and Design. We toured the art gallery and enjoyed the American Quilt exhibit. We saw a quilt that spoke of hours of tedious work where no two pieces of fabric were the same. We saw one that had been made with a political voice instructing us as to which party we should cast our vote. We saw quilts of vibrant colors and one in solid off-white. Each one was handmade and unique; no two were the same. These quilts mirrored our lives. No two are alike. Each of us has been created uniquely to tell a story. For Christians, the stories may be similar as we recount who Jesus is to us, but still, every story will be different because Christ has done a special work in each of our lives.

All quilts have a pattern. The quilter must have a vision for what he or she is trying to accomplish with the creation. This thought as it applies to life causes me to ask myself some questions. I hope you will ask yourself the same ones.

* As I am sewing my experiences together, am I using the Master’s plan for my life?

* Or if someone was to look at my quilt, would they think that I am just haphazardly putting the pieces together?

* Am I trying to live my life by the detail of God’s plan or am I doing things my own way?

* What is my excuse for having pieces that don’t fit or pieces that don’t please God?

* What is my reasoning for unkind words and actions?

Yes, I am human and therefore I sin, but should I abuse God’s grace? The apostle Paul says no! I must live as the new creation that I am. I must seek the vision that the Lord has for my life and pray the prayer so eloquently penned in this old hymn.

“Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee, Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight,
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight.
Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’ns Son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.”

Ancient Irish hymn, possibly from the 8th Century, tr. by Mary E. Byrne

As friends and family look upon the quilt of your life, what do they see? Do they see a story of devoted service and undying love for the King? If not, know that it is not too late to change your story. What new pieces can you sew into your quilt to point others to Jesus? Merry Christmas!

On a personal note:

The last time I wrote for the Crossroads Communicators blog, I sought prayer for my daughter, Grace. The doctors were concerned that she might have a mass growing behind her eye due to the fact that one pupil dilated larger than the other. We thank you for your prayers and want you to know that God answered them in the best possible way. There was no mass or anything else unusual about Grace’s MRI results. Grace’s abnormal pupil is simply one more way that God creatively made her. She is an original and so are you!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

With or Without by JoAnn Lampe

Psalm 25:4-7
Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O LORD.

With or Without

A path is there before me,
It’s end I cannot see.
Peering through the thickset bracken,
I note a clear path is clearly lackin’

Dear Lord, I pray, show me the way.
Not tomorrow but today!
I grow impatient waiting to hear
Do you not see me? I know I am near

I will wait no longer for You to say,
“Come follow me I know the way.”
I’m off on my own – I know I can do it
Just stay up in Heaven, and I’ll see to it.

I bravely step through the bracken gate
Thankful I haven’t waited too late.
Big strides I make on my first day
Oh yes! I am on my way!

Ooops! I’m caught on a prickly briar
I’ve told some lies, but I’m not a liar.
Jumping ahead using someone’s feet
I have a feeling I’m no longer sweet.

Ooops! I’ve fallen in a great big hole.
I can’t remember – what was my goal?
With no one’s help – to make it on my own.
Without the Lord, my destiny’s sown.

Oh Lord, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.
Do you think you could help this insolent pup?
The path laid before me was life you see
With it’s twists & turns & dangers times three.

You say I’m forgiven? Oh – I knew it was true
I’m stopping now to wait for you.
You’ll guide me through the path ahead
Now I can look without any dread.

My life is my own with the Lord at my side
I just have a less bumpier ride.
So Lord here I am – here’s my hand,
I’m following YOU to the Promised Land!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lost and Found by Tami Gilman

One morning my phone rang at 4:50 am and a friend of mine was on the line. She was headed to the hospital to be with her mother who was having difficulty breathing and asked if I could stay with her kids until she got back. Her husband is deployed to Iraq and my husband was out of town, but between the two of us, we would manage. I jumped up, fed my dogs because they have no sense of time, let them outside and threw on some clothes so I could get there quickly. Once at my friend’s house, I actually went back to sleep. I got back up in time to pack the kid’s lunches and get them ready for school. It was all quite uneventful, until I got home, that is.

I let my dogs back outside since they had only been out a few minutes earlier that morning. I finished getting ready for work and went to the front door to let my precious little bundles of fur back in the house. To my surprise, they weren’t waiting at the front door, grateful to even be allowed in the house in the first place. No, my babies had decided that life in my yard was not exciting enough and decided to seek adventure elsewhere. I called their names, expecting them to run happily toward the sound of my voice. I am their mother, after all. I feed them, pet them and make sure they are well taken care of. My husband plays with them. They should certainly know that they are loved. Yet, of all mornings, they decided that they indeed were discontent.

I hopped in the truck and headed around the neighborhood looking in yards for any sign of my delinquent pets. As I rounded the corner, I spotted one of my dogs in the neighbor’s yard. I called his name expecting him to be pleased that I was searching for him, yet he looked at me in surprise and took off like a shot! He ran to my friend’s house and came to a screeching halt on her front porch. He seemed to be relieved, as though we were playing a game and he reached home base where he would be considered “safe.” As I am scolding him for being disobedient and ungrateful, I see my girl dog, Kailey, trotting through the yard. She ran toward the fence as if to will herself into my friend’s back yard and be free from any consequence. I truly believe they know better when they are misbehaving.

I finally coaxed the dogs in the truck, took them to the house, grabbed a lint roller and headed to work. Being that I was now late and my blood was already boiling, thoughts were raging in my mind about how ungrateful my dogs really are. Who do they think they are? They have it so good and are taken care of better than some people, yet it is not enough. As I am stewing over this situation, I felt like the Lord impressed upon me, “Well, now you know how I feel. I care for my children, I provide for them, beckon to them and yet sometimes they ignore me. Sometimes they are even blatantly disobedient.” Now that will stop you in your tracks. Not literally, because that would have caused an accident, but you get the idea.

I realize that my dogs running away does not impact anyone other than me, but doesn’t it resemble the disobedience we sometimes show toward God? He is our Father, Healer, Provider, Source of Strength, and yet we often ignore Him or run in another direction. We seek refuge on someone else’s porch. That morning I realized that as angry as I was at my dogs, I still love them. Even when they run away or don’t listen, I will still welcome them home. God’s love for his children is an infinite amount greater than mine and I became more aware of this through a very frustrating situation. There are consequences for straying, but even when we are disobedient, God doesn’t leave us where we are. When we are willing, He picks us up, takes us home and puts us safely where we belong.

Luke 15: 4-6 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Should Have and Could Have by Tammy Blackburn

At the end of the day
When work is all done,
We look back on our tasks
Whether work or for fun.
Our memories are fresh
As we take to our beds,
Each word and each deed
Seems to swirl in our heads.
Oft times our days are
Filled with regrets,
That’s when the curse of
I should have besets.
As we toss and we turn
Sweat dampens our sheets,
We tend to focus
On failures, defeats.
There have been many nights
That I’ve lain awake,
Wondering how many rights
Out of wrongs I could make.
But I’ve learned a secret
I’m willing to share,
A way to lie down
Each night without care.
I’m only human
Mistakes are okay,
I just do my best
As I go through my day.
I trust God to guide
My hands and my feet,
To guard all my thoughts,
And make my words sweet.
So when the sun sets
I’m not troubled by should have,
When I know I’ve done
All that I could have.

Friends, it is the work of the evil one who condemns us and tries to steal our peace. Certainly we will sin at times and those sins need to be taken to Christ. But never allow Satan to condemn you and blame you falsely.

Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Valley of Shadows by Jan Darnell

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Ps. 23:4

Evil. It slithers through our lives with deceptive wiles and oppressive intent waiting to coil and strike in the valley of the shadow of death. How should we respond? Should we be afraid? Recently I encountered this valley that David refers to in Psalm 23. Here is my response:

The wicked forces presenting themselves against us in death emit a potent nauseating stench. Suddenly we are faced with unwanted, irrevocable vacancies. We could not become more acutely aware of the power of evil and the consequences of sin than when death strikes with such hostility. Pending darkness absorbs prism colors of joy and abandons us to prisons of monochrome black. Haunting winds then recount the losses throughout sleepless nights, boasting of life’s chilling finalities. This is the valley of the shadow of death.

Thankfully, Psalm 23:4 reveals a valuable asset when confronted with this prison or valley of evil. God. God is our asset. I fear no evil; for Thou art with me. There is an immunity for those who trust in God, a blessed provision through the victory of Christ that Paul wrote of in 1 Corinthians 15:55, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Though death stings us, God has removed the stinger.

The entire 23rd Psalm is a hymn praising God for His provisions. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want (lack). He leads, He restores, He guides For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:1-3). In this psalm, David includes God to be sufficient even in the valley of death. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. David sings of God’s presence despite the solitude in loss and there is enormous loss when someone we love is taken away. That heart we have exchanged love with is no longer present.

First, it can be realized from David’s writing that walking through this valley is a part of life. It is presented as a matter of fact, a commonality. David does not say, If I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, nor does he refer to the encounter as exceptional. Rather he presents death as a familiar encounter. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… You can almost hear David say, “I have journeyed through this valley. You will too. But know this…God is with you.”

This valley is as deep as it is wide, beckoning every one of us to walk through it at some point. Think of the numbers of people who have gone since original sin spoiled our world. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Ro. 6:23). Everyone walks through this valley.

Secondly, it is notable that the pace of this journey is referred to as a walk, not a sprint. We might prefer it to be a race quickly run and won but it is not. Walking through this valley occurs at a slow pace, one that tantalizes with unnerving thoughts, coming from unknown places within the valley shadows. It is a time of temptation, as well as sorrow, a time when guilt ravishes the mind with doubt and unexpected inadequacies. It is a time when reflections are conflicted by sweet and sour memories, the sour attempting to expunge the sweet.

I will fear no evil. David refuses to give way to the sour thoughts of condemnation that cause us to grimace with guilt. Fear has no place in the heart of a believer. Neither does condemnation or evil. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Ro. 8:1). Faith is the key to facing these giants, our faith in a God who is faithful in times of trouble. For Thou art with me.

On September 27th, 2009 my father was summoned by our heavenly Father to a mansion prepared just for him. Jn.14:2. The reflection of such unparalleled grandeur brings me joy and peace on his behalf. However, while I rejoice for my dad in his new estate, there is a deep void left behind. My dad is gone. I am now walking, at times crawling, through the valley of the shadow of his death.

I sat by dad the night he died. He had just gone to bed, recovering from a successful kidney stone procedure earlier in the week. Suddenly, his body jerked as if electrocuted, rendering him unconscious. He exhaled with two short, quick coughs and then stopped breathing. Seconds prior to that, we were talking. I sat there stunned, staring at my father who suffered a fatal heart attack before my eyes. At that very moment, the earth stood still for me. Darkness shrouded all my senses with a suffocating cloak, crushing me with indescribable grief and pain. In an instant, I found myself in the valley of the shadow of death, sequestered by an authority far, far beyond my abilities.

Since Barry and I married in 1982, our family of nine has had to rebuild twice. Once after a major fire destroyed most of our house, then again after a tornado twisted through our neighborhood, picking up trees like toothpicks and removing houses unfortunate enough to be in its’ path. Each disaster required years of reconstruction and my dad was a major part of those. Now he is gone. How do we rebuild now? How do we deal with the huge void left in our family, one that is intangible unlike destroyed houses or fallen trees? David answers that with Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. With God’s faithful presence comes His faithful guidance. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (lack). He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul.

It is comforting to know that we walk only through a valley of shadows when we face death. Death has no final power or claim. The grave cannot contain us. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). Jesus overcame the power of all sin and therefore removed the penalty of death. This is why David says, I fear no evil. God is with us. There is nothing to fear.

Thank you Jesus for the love and life you have shed abroad in our hearts. May we honor and trust Your victorious name when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Amen

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Ending and a Beginning by Sherri Tyler

The day I lost my mother my whole world came crashing in. It had only been two weeks since I had sat in a hospital room alone with her while the doctor explained that she had cancer. I walked out into the hall and asked him to be honest with me and tell me how long she had. He replied “she may have a month or two, or it may be as short as a few weeks.” I thanked him and went back into the room to my mother. I asked her if she understood what he had just said, and she shook her head no. I told her that he said she had cancer, and that it was bad. She looked at me with a blank look. I was not sure she understood, so I explained that there was nothing they could do for her. I watched the expression on her face change as she began to understand what I was trying to tell her. Then with a peaceful expression of understanding she said simply, “Ok then and smiled.” She said she could get through this as long as I stayed with her. She made me promise not to leave her side. I told her I would be there and we would get through this together. Then I put my head in her lap and cried. For the last time, I felt my mother comfort me. That was the last time I allowed myself to cry in front of her. I spent a lot of time holding her hand so she knew I was there, but I never let her feel my pain. I wanted her to know I was going to be okay, and that she had done her job well and I would be fine. That was so far from the truth. I think she probably knew. Mothers are wise like that.

It happened so quickly. I have never felt more alone in my life then when my mother passed away. I also think I have never felt the friendship and love of God more than since her departure from this world. God is always there; watching over us as we stumble through life.

Joshua 1:5 "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you."

It is hard at times to notice God’s presence when the busy hustle and bustle of life gets in the way. We build our life and our support systems and forget to consider God. I think this is why quiet time with God is so important. It gives us time to listen to the voice we seldom hear when the pressures of the world are pressing in on us. When I came home after mother’s death I was alone. The silence was oppressive. I had time to think and feel and listen. God’s voice came in loud and clear.

It’s been almost two years since my mother died. There is never a day that passes when I do not think of her and miss her. The pain is just as intense. They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t know if the pain will ever change. Only the passing of time will teach me if this is true. What I do know today, that I did not really know before, is that God is there for us. I am one of those who do not have a clear gift for discernment, but I know this; I have clearly seen God work in my life since my mother died. He has shown me that I do walk on this earth alone, but also that I am not alone. He will help us through the hard times and celebrate with us in the good.

Psalms 46: 1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear thought the earth should change, thought the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”

God is there for us every day and every minute of our lives; we just have to acknowledge him. We should talk to God as if he is in the room. We should make him a part of our daily lives. This is where prayer belongs, not just in the time when we get on our knees although this is important time too, but in the daily activities of life. I used to talk to my mother every day. I didn’t talk to God every day. He should have been the first person on my list of calls to make. When we look back at our lives and think of the events that have shaped us into who we are today, we can pinpoint the really important events. For me, the death of my mother is the most important event to impact my relationship with God. It has taught me that the only person who will be there for us, for all of our lives, is God. He is there from beginning to end.

Revelations 22:13 “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

God wants us to lean on him, ask him for advice, and share our joys, as well as our sorrows. God wants it all and deserves it all. I am glad that God is a patient God. It took many years for me to come to the understanding that he wants us to look to him first for support.

This event has also taught me that what is really important is what we do while we are here, who we care for in our lives, and what we share with others. What is also important is to share that life with God.

One of the blessings of being a Christian is the knowledge that one day we will see our loved ones again.

1 Thess 4:17 “After that, we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

I can honestly say that this one truth has made the days bearable.

My mother always said she didn’t have a good singing voice. One day I will stand next to my mother and the two of us will be lifting our voices in praise to him for his grace. I know the expression on her face will be that wonderful smile I remember from that day in the hospital when she looked at me with a mother’s love.

She has left a legacy……

Nichole Nordeman - Legacy

I want to leave a legacy.
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to Love?
Did I point to you enough to make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering. A child of mercy and grace who blessed your name unapologetically, and leave that kind of legacy.
……not well traveled, not well read, not well-to-do or well bred. Just want to hear instead, “Well done good and faithful one…”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

International Plan of Salvation by Gail Purath

I was on the patio of our bed and breakfast in Dubrovnik, Croatia when I met a sweet little old lady from Vienna who spoke excellent English. When I told her I did Christian work in Budapest, she was quick to assure me that she was also a Christian. But she was just as quick to tell me that she believed that people of all religions will get into heaven as long as they are good people.

According to a recent poll, most Americans agree with her. A survey reported in Parade Magazine just this month showed that 59% of those polled believe that “all religions are valid.”* Isn’t it amazing that so many people throughout the world believe in this plan of salvation? Even in cultures where politics and religion are taboo subjects between strangers, I’ve found that people are eager to share this view. I think they genuinely assume that everyone will agree with the “logic” of their plan.

However, I’ve noticed that people who suggest this plan never explain what the specific requirements are for being “good.” Can you miss heaven for lack of one good deed? Do bad deeds cancel good deeds or good deeds cancel bad deeds? Can you do all your good deeds early in life and then take it easy? Do your motives count or only your actions?

Since this Viennese lady didn’t think God cares what or who we believe in, I should have asked her whether “good” was determined by Christian values (say the Ten Commandments) or Muslim values (say the Holy Jihad). The definitions of “good” in these two religious systems are completely opposite in some areas.

Besides being vague, this plan of salvation also seems a bit arrogant. I always get the impression that people who hold the view are pretty sure they fall into the “good” category themselves.

Had I asked the Viennese lady who decides who/what is good, it’s very likely that she’d have said that God does. Then I could have told her that He already has. He says, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10), and He emphasizes throughout Scripture that we are saved by grace, through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8,9). He also says that no one can come to God except through faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

I think the reason so many people all over the globe embrace this view of salvation is because it sounds “fair” to affirm the faith of so many different people. But what this view actually does is deny the beliefs of all religions. For example, the Bible teaches that Jesus is God while the Koran teaches that Jesus is not God. Claiming that everything is true is the same as claiming that nothing is true.

I doubt this little Viennese lady had thought through her belief system enough to realize that her view also makes Christ’s death on the cross meaningless. Why would Christ die for sinners if we can get to heaven on our goodness alone? As C.S. Lewis explained in Mere Christianity, either Christ is the Lord and Savior of mankind, or He was a lunatic and liar.

It’s tragic that so many men and women have staked their eternal futures on this theory that doesn’t really make any sense. It’s also tragic that I’ve heard this view so many times yet never prepared an intelligent, articulate response. That day in Dubrovnik, I mumbled something about knowing Christ, but I didn’t do the subject justice. I prepare myself for so many things in life—why shouldn’t I do the same for the Enemy’s attractive but deadly lies? After all, this little Viennese lady’s only hope is Christ, no matter how well she has lived her life. Next time someone shares this view, I hope to be better prepared.

* “How Spiritual Are We?” Parade Magazine, October 4, 2009, page 4.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pantyhose and Prayer by Kim Jackson

Halfway into church from the parking lot I realized that my pantyhose were rapidly becoming kneehighs. I continued talking to my friends as if nothing was amiss, but inwardly I was praying that I would make it to the safety of a nearby restroom before the top of my pantyhose sagged below my skirt.

My prayer was answered and I was able to hike up the hose and tuck the elastic-weary waistband into other undergarments. This temporary fix allowed me to attend Sunday school, after which I returned to the restroom for further shoring up.

On my way into the sanctuary I considered that, given said dilemma, I might need to worship less enthusiastically than is my custom. That is easier said than done at our church. And even more so when the choir launches into “All Things are Possible,” followed by a roarin’ rendition of “Trading My Sorrows.”

While one cannot modestly assess pantyhose progress in public places, I felt as we neared the end of worship that I was holding up well. And I could, if necessary, wait until the sanctuary cleared to make my getaway.

What I had not anticipated was the Spirit moving on my heart during the pastor’s sermon. Much of what he said stirred my soul. When he asked for those desiring prayer
to come forward, everything within me wanted to respond.

But I was held captive in pantyhose prison.

I knew that God could meet me right where I was, but I longed to step out, go forward, and pour out the desires of my heart in prayer at the altar.

Instead, I sat down.

As the service concluded, a new friend named Clara walked back to my pew. She took one look at me and then turned to a friend and said, “Is she ok?” When Deb responded positively, Clara dismissed her answer and spoke directly to me. “Are you ok?”

“Yes, I am” I said, all the while trying to gauge the current status of the pantyhose problem. I made an executive decision that my pantyhose were up—literally—for the walk to the car, so we began to make our way through the crowd to the parking lot.

Along the way we ran into more friends, so there followed a round of greetings and hugs. As Clara and I waited for the rest of our group, she looked at me again and asked, “Are you sure you are ok? Is there anything I can pray about for you?”

I don’t know Clara well, but I do know she is a woman of prayer. So I told her what was on my heart. With not a second of hesitation, Clara commenced to very specifically exhort me in the Lord. She rattled off a succession of Scripture verses that could not have been more perfectly suited. She encouraged, she blessed, she spoke truth into my life. And she concluded with a promise to pray for me concerning the very reason I had longed to go forward.

When we dropped Clara off at her apartment, her last words to me were “Now you stay encouraged!”

Back at my house, I gratefully removed the problematic pantyhose, which obviously took little effort to bring down. As I sat on the edge of the bed, Clara’s sweet exhortations flowed through my mind. And I smiled to think how committed God was to reaching out to me when I was not “up” to reaching Him.

I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers! (Isaiah 65:24 NLT)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Grandchildren: An Awesome Opportunity by Ann Wayne

Lots of hugs. Lots of kisses on the cheek and behind his ears. I was sitting on the front porch swing with precious little Benjamin, my new 3-month-old grandson. A first-time attempt to “coo” and smiles almost too big for his little mouth to encompass. It was during this bonding time that I was reminded of the wonderful opportunity I have as a grandmother to teach and set an example for him and his little cousin Emma Grace.

A few weekends ago, our nation celebrated “Grandparents Day.” A time to show appreciation for grandparents and let them know what they mean to us. A time to visit and spend quality time with the people who have had tremendous influence in our lives in some way or another. We may have fond memories of grandparents teaching us godly principles or we may have sad memories of grandparents who were distant or who shed ungodly influence. Whatever the case, it’s time we all realize the importance of a grandparent’s role.

In Deuteronomy, chapters 4 and 5, Moses is introducing the laws the Lord has given him to share with the Israelites. In chapter 4, verse 9, Moses says, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them (NIV).” Even in the Old Testament, we are given instruction about the responsibility as grandparents to help nurture and teach our grandchildren. We should have more wisdom and life experiences to share with them than their parents have acquired.

After Moses shared the Ten Commandments with the Israelites, he reminded them again in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 that “these commandments are to be upon your heart. Impress them on our children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (NIV).”

As one who loves to decorate, I find it refreshing to place scripture stones all around the house. They are beautiful and exalt the word of God. They are also a great witnessing tool for anyone who comes to visit. As children learn to read, the stones are a great way for them to memorize scripture. It helps them recite the verse each time they walk by. This is a unique way to instill scripture in their hearts and minds for a lifetime.

Here are some other ways that I have discovered to share God’s word with my grandchildren (especially Emma who is 3 ½ years old) and other children in the family:

• DVDs with Bible stories
• CDs with Christian songs
• Stuffed animals that play Christian lullabies or hymns
• Books with Bible stories or lessons in obedience or Christian virtues
• Creation lessons about nature when taking a walk outside
• Visual aids when telling a story or singing – this helps children retain better
• Games with scriptures and symbols for Christian holidays
• Jewelry with Christian symbols

In Psalms 8:2, David, the psalmist, proclaims to the Lord, “You have taught the little children to praise you perfectly. May their example shame and silence your enemies.”

Sitting on the front porch with Benjamin that day was like a praise service for both of us. He tried to “coo” to show his love and fulfillment with his “Grammy.” I was praising God for this precious child and the bonding time. May each of you who have the privilege to become a grandparent realize the awesome opportunity that God has placed in front of you with your grandchildren.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shattered Dreams by JoAnn Lampe

Broken childhood - Broken hearts - Broken relationship
-----------------Fractured families-----------------
Drug abuse – violence – murder – mayhem –
Lost jobs – lost homes – lost lives

---------Shattered dreams----------

Name above all names
Saviour, Redeemer,
Healer, provider

Poverty, humble beginning, “different”,
Unknown, day laborer,
Listening & waiting
Listening & waiting
Listening & waiting
Broken body – death – life

Name above all names,
Beautiful Saviour – Glorious LORD
Emmanuel – God is with us –
Blessed Redeemer – Living Word –

New life created from shattered dreams
Broken pieces placed just so
A varied hue of colors
The light of Jesus shining through
A beautiful mosaic
He makes for you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Hardest Part is the Waiting by Emily Carter

I wrote this article on Monday, August 31 knowing that I would be taking my four-year-old daughter to the eye doctor two days later. On Wednesday, the doctor told us that our four year old has an abnormal pupil, something that 20 percent of the population has, and that it was most likely nothing to worry about. However, since we had just noticed that one pupil is larger than the other is, he wanted her to have an MRI just to make sure everything was what it should be. As I send this to the editors, we are waiting for the MRI to take place on September 9th. You will receive this blog on the 13th, while we are waiting on the results and follow-up appointment that is to take place on Friday, the 18th. Waiting is hard. Today, if you find yourself like I do, in a season of stillness, WAIT on God.

W – Wait in Wonder and Commit Your Way to Him.
A – Abstain from Anger
I – Prepare for Your Inheritance
T – Trust God and Talk to Him

Wait in Wonder and Commit Your Way to Him. Psalm 34:4-5 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this.” Wait in wonder, delight in God. Think of all that he has done for you personally and for his creation and marvel at his handiwork. This will be a time of praise that will move your focus off yourself and onto the Father. He loves you dearly and you are his glorious creation. You are his prized possession. Commit Your Way to him. Lift up your situation to him. Let him know you want to do things his way. His will is what you want to be accomplished in your life. Nothing but his perfect and pleasing plan will do for you.

Abstain from Anger. Psalm 34:8 gives us great advice. As you wait, don’t get angry or fret. This is hard to do, especially when we have been waiting for something important for a long time already. Remember, the longer you wait, the more time you have to prepare for his plan. And the more time you have to become the person God wants you to be.

Prepare for your Inheritance. Six different times is Psalm 34 the word “inherit” or “inheritance” is used. Wow! We are told, in verse 9, to hope in the LORD. In verse 11, we are told that the meek will inherit the land and in verse 18 that the inheritance of the blameless will last forever. “Those the LORD blesses will inherit the land” can be found in Psalm 34:22. In verse 29, it is the righteous that inherit the land, and finally, in verse 34 we are encouraged to “wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land.”

Lastly, Trust God and Talk to the Lord. The Hebrew word used for “trust” in Psalm 34:3 denotes a confident expectation. Believe that, as you wait, God is at work. He is preparing you for his plan. He is working out all things for your good. As you trust him, talk to him. Psalm 34:30 says, “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom and his tongue speaks what is just.” The only way we will be able to speak the right words is by spending time studying God’s word and talking to him.

Waiting is never easy, but the desires that God has for your life are well worth the wait!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gold Nuggets by Ann Wayne

I love to shop. In fact, I am good at it. What I mean is that I know how to find bargains. You see, it’s not really when you are looking for something specific that you find them. Browsing in a store, walking by clearance tables or sidewalk sales, and being aware of the goods around you are the best time to find them. And out of season. Never buy in season unless you absolutely have to.

A good example is the rug at my cabin in the mountains. I looked at it for a year at Lowe’s Home Store before purchasing it. It was originally $325. Then months later, it was marked down to $225. Then one day I went by for some hardware and happened to walk by the rugs and it was missing. That’s when I discovered it lying on the floor rolled up in a bag. A price of $175 was marked in red on the sticker. After talking with the manager, she agreed to let it go for $125. Wow! I actually purchased the rug at 60% off. If we have the patience, we can find gold nuggets most anywhere.

In Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9, we are instructed to “ask and it will be given to us; seek and we will find; knock and the door will be opened to us.” It’s really a simple test of faith. A 1-2-3 kind of faith. But the answers are before us. (1) Ask and we receive, (2) seek and we find, (3) knock and the door is opened. This is how we find our gold nuggets in our spiritual walk and answers to life issues.

The Lord desires a close relationship with us. He wants us to ask Him for the desires of our hearts. And His word proclaims that he will give it to us. In Psalm 37:4, we are to "Delight ourselves in the Lord and he will give us the desires of our heart." The scriptures say that if we commit to Him and trust in Him, he will make our righteousness shine, and if we are patient and have hope in the Lord – then we will inherit the land (the gold nuggets). Now my paraphrase of that is…If we are patient and trust in Him, He will give us good things.

So where do we seek? If we are in the world, we will seek material possessions and pleasures. But if we are a child of God, we should be seeking in His word. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” Brothers and sisters, there is simply nothing else on the earth that speaks truth and love more accurately than scripture. We must not only read the word, but we must act on it. James 1:22 reminds us that we “do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive ourselves. Do what it says.” When we take the word of God to heart and live by it, we have a much clearer path and the peace that passes understanding.

And how do we knock? First, we acknowledge Christ as our Lord and Savior. This may involve some repentance. In 2nd Chronicles 7:14 the Lord spoke to Solomon at night and said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” The Lord is telling us to repent and He will bless us. The doors will be opened. The gold nuggets will be our rewards for being faithful and seeking His face.

It’s as simple as 1-2-3. Ask and we receive, seek and we find, and knock and the door is opened. Even a child can find these gold nuggets!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dust to Glory by Jan Darnell

From dust, God created sons and daughters to bear His image. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Gen. 1:27 Then God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden; a garden He planted specifically for Adam to oversee. Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. Gen. 2:15 cultivate (5647) abad – “work, serve, labor; to worship, minister, work in ministry, plow, cultivate

This magnificent paradise included rivers and rich soil embedded with stones such as gold, bdellium, and onyx stone. Gen. 2:9-14 It was a place of abundant, fruitful provision, designed for Adam to enjoy as well as cultivate and keep.
keep (8104) samar“watch, observe, guard, set aside, cling to”

Blessed by God for fruitfulness, Adam had been given the capacity to accomplish the tasks set before him. He was created with Godlike abilities for the glory of God. Everyone (male and female) called by My name, I have created for My glory. Is. 43:7

In Genesis 2, we read of Adam naming every animal as God named the stars. Gen. 2:19-20; Ps. 147:4; Is. 40:26 Adam was reflecting the glory of his Creator whose intelligence, authority and creativity were seen, for whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. Gen. 2:19 In any task assigned, Adam had the opportunity to explore his abilities in the fellowship of his Father, enjoying his position as the son of a magnificent God. Gen. 2:15; Lk. 3:38

Why would God put dusty Adam in a paradise like the Garden of Eden rather than a desert or wilderness? Why? Because our Creator designed us to know His goodness and His glory. Consider this: when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God answered, I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you… Ex. 33:18-22 God defines His glory to be His immeasurable goodness.

Let’s be clear on this point: Gods’ position and honor as Creator belongs only to Him and none other. I am the LORD, that is My name, I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images. Is. 42:8 All praise and honor belong to God as our Creator. There are no other gods but One. Let us be thankful that this God rules the universe by the glory of His goodness! Beyond our control, He could have also been the opposite of good. What if He were one of terror and madness! But He isn’t. God is good! Glorify Him and revel in the goodness of our Creator!

The heart of our glorious God wants to share His satisfying goodness with us. His glory was shared with the first man and woman in the Garden, even with the Hebrews in their exodus and wilderness wandering consequential to their disobedience. Ex. 16:7 Most importantly the glory of God was declared and shared with us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jn. 1:14

The Garden was full of the goodness of God, which Adam was told to freely partake of. Gen. 2:16 In this sense, God does share His glory. When the sun rises, God is sharing His glory. When the sun sets and the moon takes its’ place, God is sharing His glory. His goodness was the reason for creation, for the Garden, for you and for His salvation. Trust His heart to be good towards you. It is.

O taste and see that the LORD is good! Ps. 34:8

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Did You Bring Your Gloves? by Gail Purath

The army has changed a lot in the last 35 years, but in 1973 when my husband went to Officer Candidate School (OCS) it was “old army” all the way.

OCS candidates were asked to do the impossible. For example, they had to maintain a perfect living area in the barracks, and there was a rule for absolutely everything. A man could actually be punished if one of the pencils in his desk was too short or if a button wasn’t buttoned on a uniform hanging in the closet! Because inspections came without warning (often in the middle of the night), candidates learned to maintain one set of personal items for “display” and another for use.

Believing that large doses of stress revealed a man’s emotional stamina, the instructors diligently harassed the candidates. Constant mealtime interruptions prevented the men from finishing their meals so they lived in a perpetual state of hunger. (It wasn’t unusual for one of us wives to get a late night “secret” order for 80 Big Macs to be left in a specified trash can outside the barracks!)

The physical training (often consisting of long runs in Army boots) forced a percentage of the class to retake the course due to injuries. Michael (23 years old at the time) persevered despite painful shin splints.

Because it was impossible to complete assignments in the time allowed, the men secretly studied and did chores after the official lights-out. They rarely got more than three or four hours of sleep, and sometimes slept fully dressed on top of their beds in order to be ready for reveille.*

While our husbands were going through this training, we wives were also learning how to become “good officers’ wives.” We had to learn about military protocol and social life: the rank system, the names and meanings of military functions, the difference between a tea and a coffee, when to wear gloves and a hat, what not to wear when we went grocery shopping, how to plan and give specific unit events, and how to treat our “superiors.”

The Colonel’s wife who led our group taught us a number of rules, one of which I will never forget. She emphasized that at any formal event, we must wear gloves in case the commanding officer’s wife wore gloves. To shake her gloved hand with an ungloved hand would be extremely rude, and any good officer’s wife would have a pair of gloves in her evening bag to be prepared. But she assured us that for the upcoming formal event she would not be wearing gloves.

When we showed up for that formal dinner and dance a few weeks later, all of us who had put a pair of gloves in our purse breathed a sigh of relief. There stood the Colonel’s wife at the head of the receiving line extending her gloved hand. I believe she took great delight in her little trick.

Although OCS accomplished some of what it set out to do—weed out men who were unable to meet the stresses and demands of combat leadership (more than half of the class dropped out before completion), it did it with arbitrary and meaningless rules, rules that focused on outward display and required dishonesty.

When I became a Christian a couple of years later, I couldn’t help but compare the OCS method of training to God’s methods. God’s rules are never arbitrary and meaningless. Instead, His commands reflect His character and prevent us from harm. Never is God interested in our outward “displays”—He is interested in our hearts.

Unlike the Colonel's wife, God never says one thing but does another. He never tricks us nor does He delight in our failures. From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, God has been open and honest with mankind. He gave Adam and Eve only one rule and He clearly explained the consequences of breaking it. And He took no delight in their defeat. In fact, He picked them up on the field of that defeat and offered them the hope of redemption—a redemption that cost Him His Son.

Whatever God asks of us is not only possible, but He gives us the Holy Spirit to help us accomplish it. His training leads us into deepening honesty, never into deception. And the most amazing thing about God’s training is that His purpose is not to weed out the weak—His purpose is to strengthen them!

*reveille is a sunrise wake-up bugle call

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What God Taught Me Between 8:30 and 5:00 by Kim Jackson

My workplace is quite a classroom. I’m constantly learning. I’m not talking about job skills, although certainly I’ve picked a few of those up along the way.

It seems, although I don’t recall signing up for it, that I am currently enrolled in some sort of “Life Lessons” class.

I’ve yet to see a syllabus, but I can tell you some of the topics we’ve covered so far.

The first I’ll call “The Meaning of Mail.” One of my duties is to distribute mail at the Assisted Living community where I work. This task makes me very familiar with the residents who monitor their mailboxes on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Every day I watch Dorothy nearly stand on her head to see if there is anything in her mailbox. When she is finished looking all the way to the back of the box, and seeing nothing there, she declares, “Not even a bill! If I got a bill at least someone would know I’m alive.”

I watch as residents walk by the mailboxes, trying not to be overly eager to see if there is any reason to stop. One resident doesn’t even wait for the mail to get in the building. He sits on the porch watching for the mail lady to pull up in her Jeep.

I’m always delighted when I get to put an envelope with handwriting on it in to a mailbox. It means that another human being cared enough to take time to write a personal note to someone who no longer lives in the outside world. I love seeing a face “light up” at the discovery of a missive in her mailbox.

“The Meaning of Mail” causes me to ask a simple question: “Who have I encouraged today?”

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

My 8:30 to 5:00 Classroom also offers “The Meaning of Music.”

Since I serve as the unofficial DJ of the lobby area where residents gather throughout the day, it didn’t take long for me to discover that Howard loves anything by Montovani (“Autumn Leaves” is a favorite) and that Joann Castle’s honky-tonk piano playing always brings a smile. When Angela takes a seat in the lobby I put on old Broadway show tunes and I can guarantee you she’ll sing along with every one. Doris becomes an armchair conductor when I cue up the “Blue Danube”. I can hear Ellen singing her way down the hall before I see her: “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” precedes her appearance. So it’s hymns for her.

As I am changing the CDs in the lobby stereo, it occurs to me that music is a language that lasts. So I ask myself what song is presently playing in my heart. And I wonder what song will be playing on the stereo of my soul in 30 years.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me . . . Psalm 42:8

When you work at an Assisted Living, one of your workplace classes is not negotiable. You will automatically be enrolled in “The Meaning of Mortality.”

Every morning when I get to work I read the 24-hour report to find out what transpired over night. Who fell? Who went to the hospital? Who has a doctor’s appointment, whose meds should be ordered, whose diet has changed, and who needs to be more closely monitored.

And sometimes, who died.

Death is a sure part of life, but the timing often throws me off.

I’ve said goodbye to quite a few special folks in the past year. It’s never easy. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard.

I’ve caught myself looking out on the faces in the lobby and thinking, “Who’s next?”

Evidently, God wanted to underscore that last sentence. Even as I was typing it I heard a text message come in on my cell phone. Another friend has passed from this life.

But then that’s the meaning of mortality. Our lives here are transitory. It’s true for us all, no matter our age, no matter our physical health or lack thereof.

Will I be walking this planet in 30 years, 30 months, or 30 minutes? Will you?

Tomorrow is Monday. I’ll be back at work at 8:30. What will my first class be, God?

So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Monday, August 3, 2009

Homeward Bound by Tami Gilman

On our way home from our mission trip to Senegal last year we got to Atlanta and the line for customs was long but moved pretty steady. The line for security, however, did not. I still haven't figured out how people can manage traveling to another country, but can't seem to understand how to take the change out of your pocket BEFORE you go through the metal detector. That's what I get for judging.

By the time the first half of our group got through security we had maybe 10 minutes to get from E concourse to A concourse. The team leader had enough confidence in me for some reason to send me ahead of the group to let the gate agents know we had 6 more people coming. No problem. I am a fully functioning and capable adult. I will handle it. I might be wearing flip flops and have no sense of direction, but I can do this.

I hurried over to the departure screens and found the flight to Charlotte on Delta at gate B9 and off I went. I got on the tram and managed to get off at B, but for some reason even unknown to me, I started down the corridor and not up the escalator. For this I now feel really stupid. At the time it seemed like it made sense. I even ran only to find that I had run all the way to A concourse. I even considered looking at the board to double check the gate, but talked myself out of it. I always second guess myself and even said, "It's B9, that's what the board said. Be confident for once." So I turned around and ran back to and all the way up the escalator to the B concourse. I proceeded to run all the way to the gate which was unoccupied because yes, it was for the 12:45 flight to Charlotte, not the 10:15. I considered laying in the floor in the fetal position. I was so exhausted and just knew that if we missed our flight it would be my fault.

I looked at the board and discovered that our flight was at gate A20 which is where I was accidentally headed in the first place, but for once didn't double check my information. Back I went, running loudly in my flops past the same people I just ran by to get to where I shouldn't have been. Down I go and over to the A concourse, still running, still out of shape, sweating like a boy and in the back of my mind wanting to get there before the rest of the team so they wouldn't know what I had done. Not possible. They had actually seen me running by the wrong way while they were on the tram headed to the right gate. When I finally got there and saw them at the gate where I broke down and started bawling like any rational adult would do. I was inconsolable and at the time this was devastating. Funny now, not then. I think all the passengers were a little afraid of what might happen next. They were probably all hoping I had some sort of tranquilizer for the flight, box of Kleenex and a barf bag just in case.

We made it home safely and I came up with a few good applications, so it wasn't a total waste of effort.

- A sincere belief in something doesn't make it truth. I ran with all my heart in one direction, but it wasn't going to get me home.

- It wouldn't hurt to stop and verify your destination.

- Before you think everyone else is foolish, stop and look at yourself.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Stacking Doll by Gail Purath

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

When I visited Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1992, new signs of life and liberty were everywhere. After forty years of oppressive communism, the Czech people were learning how to express their new found religious, artistic, political, and financial freedoms. New capitalistic ventures cluttered the beautiful city—artists doing portraits, musicians performing for donations, historians hawking guided tours and others selling handicrafts.

Russian things were despised in the city because they represented the former oppressors, but there was one obvious exception: the Russian stacking doll. These were on sale everywhere because of their popularity with tourists. I had collected these nesting dolls for years, but the ones I owned from the communist era looked like they were wearing uniforms—simple swirls of red and yellow on lacquered wood. Eastern Europe’s former oppressive lifestyle left little time for art, and the dolls I owned reflected the bleak monotony and conformity of communist control.

Thankfully, freedom breeds creativity. Now that the hearts and hands of the people were free, the once plain dolls were taking on a variety of personalities. Some were finely inlayed, some wood burned and carefully painted, some minutely detailed with exquisite depictions of Russian fairy tales. Others were adorned with cheesy caricatures of pop culture idols—politicians, athletes or recording artists. There were dolls crafted by gifted artisans and others slapped together by amateurs hoping to make a quick buck.

I planned to buy one new doll for my collection, and the hunt for that perfect doll was half the fun of owning it. When we travel I always try to do some flea market shopping because it gives me a chance to see a side of the local people that I would miss otherwise. And downtown Prague in 1992 resembled one big flea market. Little did I realize that during my shopping trip I would also see a side of myself I might otherwise have missed.

Stacking dolls beckoned to me from everywhere--on makeshift tables and carts and on pieces of cloth spread on the pavement. After looking around for half an hour, I saw one with bright green and pink accents and bent to pick it up from its sidewalk display. Closer inspection revealed that the doll was not especially well painted, but as I lowered it back to the sidewalk, the bottom section fell out and rolled across the pavement. I chased it down and picked it up to find that the fall had slightly chipped the doll’s finish.

“OK?” the Czech seller asked a bit nervously (OK is a universal expression). I nodded yes, and quickly returned the doll to its display with the chipped section away from the dealer’s vision. But as I walked away my heart sank. I was shocked at the ease with which I concealed the doll’s damage, and an Old Testament verse from Jeremiah popped into my mind: “The heart is deceitful above all else…(17:8).”

In truth, the chipped doll was not my fault. The bottom of the doll must have been loose when I picked it up, but that was not the point. The point was that I’d seen the chip but told the dealer everything was fine. I had always prided myself on being an honest person. Even before I was a Christian, I had a strong conscience. Growing up, I rarely lied to my parents even when the truth brought punishment. I always corrected store clerks who made mistakes in my favor and avoided even those lies we call “white lies.” So why had I so easily and automatically lied about the damaged doll?

As I thought this through, another passage came to mind: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:12,13.)

I turned around that day in Prague, went back to the unsuspecting salesman and bought the most important doll in my collection. It’s not an especially pretty doll, nor was it worth the price I paid, but it is an important reminder of my ability to slip into sin if I do not constantly guard my heart.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Woman of Her Word by Christina Darnell

“Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no’;

anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Matthew 5:37

There I sat in front of the mall, waiting for my sister-in-law to show up. She had just called and asked me to meet her. She wanted to give me resources I needed to run an errand for her. Once again, I was completely overwhelmed with the plethora of commitments I had made. There were at least three events that I had tentatively said “yes” to for that evening. How did I manage to get myself into these stressful situations? My mother, visiting from out of town, sat down next to me and sighed. She lovingly started communicating that, for the sake of my own sanity, I had to start learning to say “no”. Oftentimes, my stress came from my own choosing.

As her words sank in, God convicted me of their truth. Sometimes I said “yes” out of reaction without taking the time to think about it. Other times it was due to the guilt of saying “no” to something that was good, even godly. Mostly, I was afraid to say “no” because I didn’t want to disappoint the people closest to me. I hated the thought of someone being at odds with me. Whatever our reasons, an inability to say “no” can lead us into stress and skewed priorities.

The Bible teaches that we should do our best to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). I finally had to ask myself, “What keeps the peace more?” Was it saying “yes” to everything and then having to back down? Or was it saying “yes” to some things and following through – and saying “no” to others, confidently and kindly, and becoming known as a woman of my word?

God never intended us to do everything. Yes, there are many needs out there, but you are not responsible to meet all of them. We are a body of believers, each intended to make up a part so that together we make up the whole. We bring more glory to God when we faithfully do our part with joy than when we stretch ourselves thin trying to fulfill every need we see.

Part of my issue was that I wasn’t confident in choosing what to say “yes” and “no” to. I would make my yeses tentative because I was afraid something better would come along. As God convicted me of these principles and led me through His Word, He showed me that He wants us to be confident in the will He has for us. We don’t attain that confidence by being passive. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (emphasis added).

The key to making godly priorities – to making “yes” and “no” decisions – is renewing our mind. The world (and even the church) loves to tell us what our priorities should be, and those priorities will lead to stress. Accepting the priorities that God gives to us may be hard work, but it will lead to a life of peace. A renewed mind comes from daily time with Him, from being selective with what we look at and listen to, and from surrounding ourselves with godly influences. As we do this, and as we learn what to say “yes” and “no” to, we will simplify our lives, participating in the things which will bring us the greatest return – a life that glorifies our Savior.

Lord, help me not to be controlled by the pressures of this world, but to have priorities that are in line with your plan for my life. Give me discernment so I can know when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” and give me the strength to follow through with both so that I can become a person of my word and, therefore, honor You.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dust To Glory by Jan Darnell

Have you ever wondered why God chose to create adam from mere dust? Why not use heavenly glitter or adornments, such as angelic robes, halos or wings? Couldn’t God be a little more ostentatious with the creation of adam? But then maybe, the grandeur was in the miracle. Then the LORD God formed man (adam) of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Gen. 2:7 Who else but God could breathe into the dust and bring forth life! Ex. 8:18-19

So also it is written, the first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam (Jesus Christ) became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 1 Cor. 15:45-49

Another purpose in our humble beginnings is this…a line has been drawn in the sand. God will always be the Creator and adam will always be the created. You and I are merely dust apart from God, and without a Creator, we would not even exist. We are gifted with astounding abilities and afforded many opportunities to express them but must never forget our dusty beginnings. Earthly kingdoms rise and crumble. God’s heavenly kingdom will stand forever. Dan. 4:26; Ro. 8:17

Jesus said it like this…You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Jn. 8:23 John the Baptist added…He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth, He who comes from heaven is above all. Jn. 3:31 God predestined a kingdom for His Son and made it clear by virtue of our beginnings that Jesus Christ is the King and Head of this kingdom. Eph. 1:20-23 Jesus Christ did not come from the dust. The Son of God originated in heaven in the Father and came to earth for our benefit. Acts 2:23; Phil. 2:5-8

If God had fashioned us from gold dust or heavenly glitter, we would undoubtedly marvel at our beauty with excessive pride. Instead, God determined to begin with dust and magnify His glory by transforming earthly vessels into heavenly ones, clothed in the righteousness of His Son. Rev. 19:14

Our journey along the King’s highway begins by revering God as Creator of heaven and earth. God has not left anything to chance, nor has He haphazardly thrown the universe together. You and I were created for and by the glory of God. Jn. 1:1-13, 14 Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made. Is. 43:7

Our beginnings are meager, yet our future quite glorious. The expedition along the way?…all grace. Dust to Glory…completely grace. God’s Son…full of grace and truth! Jn. 1:14

Just as we have borne the image of the earthy,

we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

1 Cor. 15:45-49

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Surrender All by Serena Haneline

The singles ministry I’m a part of likes to use the NOOMA videos — a collection of incisive and thought-provoking videos by Rob Bell, author, speaker, and lead pastor of a church in Grandville, MI. He simplifies God’s truths and uses video to illustrate his points. The other night we were watching one such video called “Tomato” about how we believe our success, intelligence, talents, etc. show how “good” we are. Jesus, however, told us to die to these things — things that make up our false self — so that we can truly live.

Based on the scripture of Matthew 10:39: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it,” Rob tells us that in order to find our true identity in Christ, we have to surrender and die to the “ideals of an image-conscious culture.”

After the video ended, we discussed the topic of surrender from our own experiences. At one point during the discussion, two women in my group commented that they are “surrendered” to Christ. I then began to wonder how many of us really grasp what it truly means to surrender to Christ.

The definition of the word “surrender” is to yield (something) to the possession or power of another. How often do we do this — especially in America? I’m currently reading a novel about persecuted Christians in China and how they are jailed, tortured and/or killed for their faith. The sad thing is that although the story itself is fiction, the reality of persecution in China and throughout the world is very real.

Millions of Christians die as martyrs every year. And even though we may not have reached a state of martyrdom yet in this country, I believe our time is quickly approaching. All over the United States, there are more and more cases of Christians being targeted for their faith. The spiritual face of our country is changing drastically in these last days, and I can’t help wondering: Who are we surrendering to?

Christians as a whole have sadly conformed to the world instead of surrendering to God and dying to the self and all its desires. Perhaps this is why so many unbelieving Americans are turned off by the Church — because they see no difference between it and the world in which they live.

So what does it mean then to surrender, to yield and give up everything to the power of our Lord? Do we really understand the cost of being a follower of Jesus in today’s volatile world? Do we know what it truly means to die to self so that we can live abundantly the life Jesus promised us?

I think there are very, very few believers in America who have truly surrendered. Those who are surrendered would be characterized by such authentic humility that they would never boast or draw attention to their condition—for they have willingly sacrificed “self” for one far greater.

They are the ones who do as John says in his gospel, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). They are so focused on God that they hear His voice readily and obey it, regardless of what their flesh is crying for.

They are the ones who are persecuted and die daily for their faith. When persecution comes to our country, will we be so surrendered that we can be counted as one of the millions who lay down their lives, yielding completely to the will of their Heavenly Father? Will we be among those who have died to self and the world so that we can truly live, even if faced with physical death?

I’m afraid it will take persecution for many of us to even begin to grasp what true surrender really involves. But history has shown that the more the Church is persecuted, the more she grows and strengthens. May God give us strength to surrender, as followers of Christ, and to stand in the face of growing persecution in America.