Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mysterious Footprints by Gail Purath

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” Psalm 77: 19

If I’m an expert at anything, it’s moving. Because my father’s profession required frequent moves, I spent my childhood in twenty-one different locations in six states. Then I married a career soldier; and in our thirty-eight years of marriage, we’ve lived in more than twenty homes in nine states and two European countries.

Yes, I know how to move and how to prepare for a move; but that doesn’t mean that our moves have always gone smoothly. For example, there was the time my husband and I were preparing to move from Virginia to New York. We had reserved a U-haul weeks in advance; but when we arrived to pick up the truck, we learned that the dealer had made a mistake. No trucks were available nor were there any available at the other local dealers! Because we needed to be out of our house that day and in New York the next, we were “between a rock and a hard place.” Without a truck, there would be significant problems whatever we chose to do.

We always prayed about our moves, but we had been especially prayerful about this move because my husband was retiring from the Army so we could start full-time ministry. We felt sure we were following God’s guidance, but suddenly His footprints were hidden from us.

I thought of this situation the last time I read Exodus 14. If there were ever a people caught “between a rock and a hard place,” it was the Israelites as they stood on the shores of the Red Sea watching the Egyptian army approach. They had two apparent choices—an angry enemy on one side and a raging sea on the other. No wonder they complained, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” They couldn’t attempt to cross the sea with truckloads (I mean wagonloads) of belongings, elderly people, small children and babies. And they knew death or slavery awaited if the Egyptians caught up with them.

The Israelites could not have anticipated God’s footprints. How could they have known that God would hide the Egyptians in darkness while He dried the sea bottom? Who would have guessed that God would take all night to perform this miracle when He could have done it instantly? And surely no one expected God to release the Egyptian army to follow them into the sea. God’s plan to save His people was far more mysterious and meaningful than they could have imagined.

God can also leave His mysterious footprints in the small events of our lives. Our move from Virginia to New York is one example. Shortly after learning that no trucks were available, an out-of-town friend (who didn’t know about our situation) showed up unexpectedly at our door. He lived within an hour of our destination in New York, was heading home that afternoon, and just happened to be driving an empty truck large enough for our belongings! There was no way we could have anticipated God’s footprints, but we were certainly happy to find them. God’s plan not only met our deadlines, it also saved us the cost of a rental truck!

The Red Sea event encourages us to look for God’s footprints when we are faced with two bad choices, whether we need something as a simple as a truck or something as critical as an escape route from our enemies. This event also symbolizes the most important choice any of us will ever make. Every one of us stands spiritually between a rock and a hard place—between a perfectly holy God on one side and our personal sins (which are punishable by eternal death) on the other. God wants to free us from our slavery to sin just as He wanted to free the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. But there is no way this can possibly happen unless we discover God’s footprints “beneath the sea.” And God’s salvation footprints are the most incredible of all because they are the nail-scarred prints left for us by God’s own Son, Jesus.

Gail has been doing women’s ministry for over thirty years. She enjoys researching and writing her own Bible studies, and her present passion is an overview of the Bible she calls “The Bible’s Love Story.” The Puraths have spent the last four years in Budapest, Hungary where they do Christian work. They plan to return to the States this summer and look forward to more time with their two married children and five grandchildren.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine - by Serena Haneline

Oh, Valentine. Where is my happy Valentine? What has this day become for us, whether we are in love or out?

For the happy couples, Valentine’s Day is a day for roses, teddy bears, chocolate, and romantic dinners – all in an attempt to rekindle the feelings of being in love. And for those not so happy couples, it’s a day they wish they could rekindle those feelings. Some may be wondering if love has left for good.

And for the “single” people out there, it’s a time to wish they could bury themselves for one day a year. The unmarried, the divorced, or the widowed find themselves with no significant other on the day of the year that boasts romance from every corner.

It is unfortunate that today all we have is the word “love” and we use it so haplessly. We love the things of the world: pizza, a new car, a job. We love our friends and our family. But then we also love God.

But do we even know what the word means?

In Greek, there are three words for love: eros, philia, and agape. Eros is passionate, intense (mostly sexual) desire. Philia is friendly affection. Apage is love that is selfless and sacrificial.
As children of God, we are to have all three loves in our lives. All of these come from our Father who is all three in one. We usually don’t have a problem with two of these. Eros seems to come easily for us, as this is a natural desire. And most of us have friendly affections (philia) for most people, especially those we are close to.

However, agape is the one that constantly trips us up. Especially on Valentine’s Day. We think of this day as a day for eros and philia love.

But what about agape? What is that kind of love? Most people describe this love as “unconditional” love. But it’s much more than that. This is the love we are commanded to love God with and others. It is an “unself” love that is ready to sacrifice and serve another. When was the last time you loved like this?

When was the last time you thought of someone else before yourself? Their feelings instead of your own? Their needs instead of your own? Their pain, their problems, their issues, instead of your own?

Can Valentine’s Day be more than a day when we spend money on things that won’t last and more time on things that will? Jesus told us that people would know we are His by our love. Do they?

Is our love more like that of the world? Do we base our entire marriages as believers on eros or philia love? Do we base them on just feelings of love? Is this why half of our marriages, just like those of the world, fail? Is our love as singles lacking because we lack the eros or philia love of a significant other?

Love is more than a feeling. Love is a choice – a choice to sacrifice ourselves, our feelings, our desires, for the good of someone else. God first, then others.

Even our enemies. Ouch. We don’t like to go there. It is easy to love those who love you, but what about those who hurt you? Those who offend you and persecute you and hate you? Yes, agape love is to extend even to them.

I believe that we can only know this kind of love, as we get to know the God OF love. As we experience His love being poured out on our broken, wounded hearts, can we begin to pour out the same love on others who are just as broken and wounded.

This is what love is (according to The Message Bible):
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.” (1 Corinthians 13)

I dare you to begin to love like this. Especially on Valentine’s Day – the day of love.

Serena Haneline works in administration at a preschool in China Grove. She has a Bachelor's in Journalism & Religion. She has done some freelance writing in the past. She is now attempting to write (and complete) and novel.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's a Calling - Christina Darnell

I’m just a sensitive person. I was the little girl who cried uncontrollably for 30 minutes after going to see Fox and the Hound. It’s also translated into a hyper-sensitivity to what others think about me. I grew up in a wonderful Christian family and church, but I was always concerned with looking like the perfect kid. I pressured myself to speak right, stand right, pray right, worship right…it became overwhelming. I felt as though God looked down on me in disappointment because I couldn’t have my devotions correctly. It was in my college years that my relationship with God reached a greater depth than obligation. I was able to reach that depth because God was faithful to soften my heart and teach me some important principles.

Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” I learned to move past the pretense and fear of being imperfect. God was able to handle my flaws. I didn’t have to put on a happy face when I was praying… I could be brutally honest with Him about my struggles. Nothing has had more of an impact on my relationship with God than pouring out my heart to Him. When I empty myself, He fills me. He fills me with peace, wisdom, conviction, courage, and faith.

I have learned to plug into my source…Jesus Christ. He stated in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” What does this have to do with us as Christian writers? In order to produce material that is meaningful and founded on truth, we have to be plugged into the source. Our first calling as Christian writers is still to know Christ and make Him known.

Sure, there are many talented writers who do not know Christ as their Savior, but we need more than words. Paul said something similar when he was writing to the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 1:5. “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” Writing isn’t just a job or a hobby…for us as Christians, it’s a calling. I Peter 4:11 challenges, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We have to be plugged into the source, pursuing a deep relationship with God, so that we (and our writing) can bear Kingdom-purpose fruit.

When we connect with God, we are connecting with the One who created the world in 7 days by His words alone. Need ideas? Have writers’ block? As we seek Him, He will give us His eyes and His heart. He’ll put His causes and ideas in us. The instigator of creativity is God. Jesus is known, even outside Christianity, for his stories and parables. He knew how to use anecdotes, transitions and quotes from Scripture to paint a picture of truth. Who better to give us inspiration?So, let’s be careful not to fool ourselves. Without Christ, we can do nothing of eternal value. Let’s make pursuing Him a priority and ask Him to fill us with His ideas. Then we can use our words to paint pictures of God’s truth to the world.