Sunday, May 30, 2010

Working Backwards by Brad Bridges

“Do you regularly jump out of planes?” he said. “Um. Uh. Of course not,” I said to the life insurance agent. I thought to myself, “Did he really just ask if I jump out of planes?” It was a good question, I guess.

Honestly, life insurance freaks me out. Death is scary. It’s out of my control. It’s painful. It’s sad. How much should I get? Do I provide better now for my wife and daughter or sacrifice more now “just in case” I die? Am I a good husband?

Now, don’t lie. You’ve felt those things before. You’ve questioned your decisions. You’ve thought about the creepiness factor in death. Don’t lie.

So why, fundamentally, do any of us care about life insurance? Why does it matter what we leave behind? Fundamentally, I think it’s tied up in our identity. It’s tied up in our desire to have made a difference; to have left a legacy. We want our lives to matter.

Paul dealt with similar issues. I think he wanted to leave a legacy too. He wanted his life to matter. He encouraged the Ephesian elders at Miletus through his presence, his words, and his actions (Acts 20:18-24). Do you want to do that? I do.

Think about it. To live a life that people care about inspires me. But why? Do I want to be famous? No, not really. Do I want to just get attention? Of course not. That isn’t my main goal. So what is it?

Honestly, I think there’s a positive and a negative side. Positively, a husband/father should provide and contribute (i.e. love his family). Negatively, my fear, self-doubt, and worry usually stem from a cognitive knowledge of the Gospel that resists its application. Let me explain.

I have no reason to worry about death. I know that. I’ve known for years that I would go to heaven. But I worry. I worry because I want control. I worry because I often value more what I have to offer than what Christ offers on the cross.

On the cross he offers life to those who lose it. He secured my future. Okay, I know that too. But practically I fight the truth. I resist the safety for a façade.

Life insurance is a good thing. Trusting in it for my security isn’t. Wise people prepare for the future. Do you plan for the future out of fear or out of obedience? Obedient plans emphasize responsibility rather than control or fear. When trust is accurately placed in Christ, issues such as fear, control, and self-doubt decrease (I didn’t say they go away entirely).

When you find yourself worrying, anxious, nervous, angry, or frustrated, ask yourself a question. Is my thinking (right now) being governed by Christ’s completed work? Or are my thoughts concentrated on my own failure, an offense caused by another person, or my fear of not being in control? Hard times will come. However, endurance is built up on Christ’s shoulders, not our own.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blessing in Disguise by Tami Gilman

With recent layoffs, business closings and terminations, there are many people who have been left unemployed. While this is devastating for most people, I am reminded of a young man my husband worked with years ago. As a Distribution Manager, Kevin had two employees who worked for him in the warehouse. One of the employees, Brian, is a gifted artist and would bring his work in to show the people at the office. The owner of the company, Mr. Miller, would encourage him to pursue a job that would showcase his talent. Brian, however, was comfortable with his role in the warehouse because it was familiar.

To Brian’s surprise, one day Mr. Miller sat him down and explained that he was wasting the talent he had by continuing to work in the warehouse. Brian had much to offer the world in art and graphic design, but as long as he worked in a job where he was too comfortable, he would never pursue other opportunities to showcase his creativity.

Then Mr. Miller fired him.

Of course this was devastating, as Brian had a wife and child at home, but somewhere inside of him, I suppose, he knew what Mr. Miller told him was true. He was comfortable. He was secure. He was complacent. He was most likely fearful of the unknown.

I don’t think Brian’s reaction is uncommon. The Israelites struggled after the Lord delivered them from slavery in Egypt because they were fearful of what was to come. Caleb and Joshua scouted the Promised Land and they gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” (Numbers 13:27-28)

The similarities in these two situations were that the driving factor of complacency was fear. Brian was likely fearful of taking the first step out of his comfort zone, and not being able to support his family or having his art rejected. The Israelites were fearful that they would be killed by the giants in the land.

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" (Numbers 14:1-3)

Caleb and Joshua tried to assure the Israelites the Lord would protect them.

"The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them." Numbers 14:7-9

The difference in these stories is the reaction to the circumstances.

So tell them, 'As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. (Numbers 14:26-32)

The Israelites grumbled, complained and wished they were once again slaves in Egypt. They missed the opportunity God presented them because of their fear. They wandered in the desert for forty years and died. They never received the fullness of God’s blessing for them because they were overcome with fear and did not trust that He would protect them from the giants in Canaan.

Brian, however, faced his fear and now runs his own successful graphic design company. His termination was a blessing in disguise. He could have easily continued wandering in the desert, remaining in a job for the sake of having a job. Instead, he embraced the opportunity to pursue a dream by using his God given talent on a daily basis.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Clothed by God by Jenn Fromke

I like clothes. It’s good to be covered, if you know what I mean. But some days I can’t decide what to wear . . . Adam and Eve had a day like that once.

They realized they didn’t have a thing to wear, so they looked in their closet, which happened to be the most beautiful garden ever created, and “they sewed leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:7) I don’t know what kind of fig leaves they were, but I’m pretty sure that even leaves from the Garden of Eden would not wash well.

A few verses later, we read, “And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) Man sinned, covering himself with shame. God looked at him and covered him with clothes made from an animal—requiring a sacrifice.

Why did God do it that way? He easily could have invented polyester right on the spot, I’m sure. He also could have given them a spinning wheel and pointed them toward a field of cotton. But God never wastes a situation. I think He required a sacrifice to cover their shame in order to foreshadow what Christ would ultimately do to cover our shame for all time.

So people lived for hundreds of years, all wearing the smear of sin on them. Isaiah 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment . . .” No matter how hard we may try on our own to be good, act good, or at least look good, everything we try ends up looking like cruddy clothes to God.

So what did He do? Destroy all of his creation? No. He made a different way. Isaiah 61:10 says, “. . . He [God] has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness . . .” What an incredible picture of love! He covers our filthy rags with a robe of righteousness. Think of a judge’s robe – it covers everything underneath. The only thing visible to God, when we are covered by His garments, is righteousness—and that righteousness is from God. (Romans 3:21)

This is how Jesus’ blood covers our sin. He covers us with His righteousness. It’s a transfer of His righteousness to us. It’s not that we become righteous all by ourselves when we get forgiven. We are transformed by the blood of Jesus when we accept His sacrifice as payment for our sins.

If you still don’t believe God is concerned about how we are clothed, Revelation 7:9-14 will convince you. This passage speaks about the multitude in heaven at the end of time, all standing before the throne of God, wearing white robes . . . and then we get a laundry tip from God. Those people “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

Notice it says, “the Lamb.” (emphasis mine). Any old lamb’s blood will ruin your clothes. Anything you try on your own will give you filthy rags to wear. If you want a white robe of righteousness, it can only come from God and be made white by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

I thought surely this would be the end of God’s wash and wear program. But He actually takes us a step further. Galatians 3:26-28 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

What do our new clothes look like? Christ! We clothe ourselves with Christ. What happens when everybody wears the same thing? I thought immediately of the military. Their uniforms show for which side they stand; for which side they fight. If we as believers all clothe ourselves in Christ, then the world around us will see that we stand for the same God and fight against the same enemy.

Next time I find myself staring into my closet wondering what to wear, I will consider the clothes offered me by my heavenly Father, and I’ll listen to the words He spoke to me about this singular problem:

Matthew 6:25-30 (exerpts)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes? . . . Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Window: A Glimpse of God's Calling by Ann Wayne

A year and a half ago, I made plans to remodel my master bathroom. The builder came by, measured the room and discussed the details. I excitedly pointed out to him that I wanted a small window cut into the exterior wall. You see, no window existed in this bathroom.

When the builder left that day, I stood there and imagined looking out the window and seeing God’s creation in the back yard. The tall oak trees towering in the woods, the deer that pass by occasionally; and now I would be able to hear the sounds of the finches chirping as they hang on the swinging bag of thistle seed, filling their bellies to the brim.

When the remodel was complete, this small window became my favorite addition to the room. It reminded me of God’s calling on those of us who write and speak. For the past several years, God has given me opportunities to attend conferences and fine tune these skills, a little at a time. He hasn’t opened any big doors yet, but I know that He will in the right time. For most of us, these skills are developed over the years through life experiences and continuing education. There are some who are fortunate enough to use their journalism degree to lay their foundation of writing on. But I think it is so cool when someone says, “I have known for years that God has called me to write; I am just getting the opportunity to work on the skills.”

In Psalm 102:18 ( NKJ), the psalmist writes “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” This is so exciting to me, that not only are we using our gifts to glorify God, but our children and grandchildren will read what we have written and praise the Lord. I think that this is one of the main reasons that God is calling me to write, so that I can share the hope and victories of trials with the generations to come. Notice that the psalmist didn’t say that it should be written, but that it will be written. Now brothers and sisters, the word of God is not to be compromised. We are supposed to act upon what we read in His word. So get busy and write! Or maybe you are supposed to be speaking too!

I struggle at times trying to figure out what I am supposed to write, finding the time to write and how best to hone the skills that are waiting to jump out on the paper. I would like to share a few strategies with you that are helping me to go forward.

Journal, journal, journal- This is one of the best ways to capture your thoughts each day. It’s amazing what the Lord can reveal to you in your quiet time. You may write only a few short notes, but you will realize that what you write today may be just the script you need later for an article or even a book. I even have a voice recorder that I carry with me in my purse. Sometimes, driving down the road, I will have a brainstorm with ideas for writing or speaking. Or maybe even a life experience is so unique that it will be recorded. My handy voice recorder captures the thoughts I wouldn’t be able to stop and write down. The Lord also gives me glimpses of opportunity as I communicate with Him through prayer.

Attend conferences or take classes- We wouldn’t expect a child to learn his alphabet or how to count by figuring it out on his own. The same principle applies to writing and speaking. We must seek out different venues for training so that we can develop our skills. There are many Christian conferences and retreats all over the country. Even the community colleges offer writing classes. There are also writing mentorship programs that are very helpful and some even offer certificates and diplomas. Yes, they cost something, but doesn’t anything in life worthwhile? The old saying goes something like this. “You get out of it what you put into it.”

Join a Writer’s Group- A group of like-minded writers can be a great support group to encourage, critique and share ideas for getting published. This is an excellent way to network and get leads to writing projects too. Check your local library or church to see if they host a writer’s group.

Subscriptions and Publications- The Christian and secular media is saturated with all types of publications to enhance writing and speaking. Looks for annual publications, monthly or quarterly magazines, online publications and free material that is handed out at some of the conferences. These are great avenues to make connections with the niche you are looking for to help develop your skills.
I hope that these bits of information are helpful, especially to the amateur writer and speaker. I enjoy looking out my small window each morning as I prepare for the day. Through nature, God reminds me that He is in control of every moment of my life.

Look for windows of opportunity in your life; don’t try to walk through doors yet. Wait for God to open the door; it will be in His perfect timing.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Twilight by Jan Darnell

Edward Cullen, a dreamy vampire in the movie Twilight, asks the smitten Isabella Swan, “What did you expect, dungeons and coffins and moats?” Isabella answers, “No, not the moats.” Twilight is a fantasy that develops relations between a teenage girl, Swan and the handsome vampire, Cullen. At box offices on opening day, the Twilight movie grossed $35.7 million dollars in the United States and $384,997,808 worldwide. All ages have been drawn into this recent craze of vampire novels and movies, the most popular being “Twilight” and its sequel “New Moon.”

These stories, you understand, are not synonymous to those of the past where vampires drained blood from the arteries of their victims. No, these portray vampires as attractive and romantically inclined, which is precisely the infatuation that has captivated so many. Evil is depicted as good rather than intrinsically wicked and thus more palatable. Should this be? Can we just swab the deck of depravity with a deceptive whitewash of charm and purify hidden murderous intentions with romantic resolve? It would seem so by our standards today, but what would the righteous heart of Almighty God, the Judge of all the earth, say about it? How would our Creator and LORD evaluate any romanticizing of evil?

I have a bit of prophetic gifting in me that is difficult to assess at times because my views usually contradict mainstream opinions. Please understand that my driving passion is to present Jesus Christ as He is, so that salvation is both sure and secure to those who believe. I do not mean to offend and, for the sake of Christ, would not flirt with offense unless the greater transgression would be against God if I didn’t.

With that in mind, I am compelled to refute the recent trend of romanticizing evil. Our 2010 culture already preaches that morality is subjective to personal individual whims. Government decisions and rulings continue to remove Christianity as the founding faith of this nation, eroding our roots in Christ and eliminating the righteous laws of His Kingdom from our lives. Romantic terminology like “tolerance” and “peace” are being utilized to cover up America’s evil in forsaking God. In addition, those who adhere to the laws of His Kingdom are being tagged as criminals of “hate crimes” and viewed publicly as “intolerant,” even “violent.” This is the day in which we now live.

In response to this erosion of Christianity in America, love has emerged as a theme song in the Church to draw us all together, the godly and godless alike. God is love (1 John 4:8). Let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7). But what kind of love is this that is emerging? Is it a pure, righteous love or a covering of sin and romanticizing of evil flying under a flag of love?

God will have to be the Judge of that. His righteous Kingdom has righteous standards for living. The book of 1 John also says, Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29). If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6). Jesus Himself said, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15).

If we are willing to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, then we must be willing to follow and keep His commandments. Then we will love one another rightly, not immorally or impurely by selfish standards, but by a higher standard that requires us to forgive and care for one another. And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Col. 3:12-13).

With our culture courting and romanticizing evil, the word “sin” is also fading from Church vocabularies, sermons and literature. This tragic mistake will thrust our already “dark” world into deeper depravity, because when the doctrine of sin is removed, then we have removed the reason for the sacrifice of Christ, the ultimate expression of God’s love.

You see, there is another twilight, one that came without deception in presentation. This twilight ordinance completely removes our bondage to evil, sin and death rather than covering it up. We saw the first glimpse of this freedom when God delivered Israel from Egyptian oppression and instituted the Passover feast for them to observe throughout their generations. With great signs and wonders, God brought His people out of Egypt in the last of ten plagues if they sacrificed an unblemished lamb at twilight and sprinkled their doorposts with the blood (Ex. 12). There is a distinction to be made between the twilight sacrilege that takes life and the twilight sacrifice that gives life. The vampire eventually drains the life blood from us, yet the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, shed His life blood for us. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Sin must not be covered up or romanticized by the Church of Jesus Christ. The consequence of sin is always death, which is why we are to follow God’s commands and righteous ways (Ro. 6:23). As the vampire destroys life, sin does too. That is the reality of both. But there is good news for the sinner. When we see our sinfulness and choose to look for true love, then Jesus Christ can be found by all who seek Him. He doesn’t hide sin. He removes it. That is God’s Twilight love story and one that we can believe, receive and pursue with confidence in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ!