Saturday, July 31, 2010

Satisfaction Found and Spreading by Emily Carter

From where do you draw your satisfaction? There are countless books and many self-proclaimed gurus who would love to help each of us achieve “true” satisfaction in life. Yet, there is only One who delivers. His name is Jesus.

It was hot that day, as it seemed to be everyday; still she waited until noon to go to the well and draw the water. Drawing water was one of her least favorite tasks to do. All of the women scowled at her. They would turn their noses up at her as if they were perfection themselves. She didn’t know it, but today would be different. Today she would be offered a chance to drink living water and be offered true and lasting satisfaction.

Read John 4:6-42 and see what Jesus offered. He wasn’t offering some kind of magic water that sparkled and bubbled. He was offering Himself, the true living water. He offers Himself to you today.

What is your struggle? What sin is plaguing you? What do you fill your life with in order to achieve a certain level of fulfillment? What has left you feeling even emptier than before?

The Rolling Stones got it right when they sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” On our own, we will just experience failure after failure, but when we drink from the Living Water, we will have our thirst quenched. Furthermore, we will be a vessel that God uses to impact more people. John 4:39-41 says, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’” They urged Him to stay and “because of His words, many more became believers.”

If you are a believer, what is your testimony? Take time today and write it out. Your testimony is most simply, a declaration of what Christ has done in your life. You may want to share a little of your life before Christ, then how He came into your heart and life. Finally, you can share what He has been doing in and through you since He has been your Lord. The important part is to share what He has done, and not just what you have done. Christ is the one with the power to save, change, and satisfy. How does He want to use your story? Pray and He will show you what to do.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Are You Planting Perennials? by Ann Wayne

I really enjoy my flowers on the back deck and my ferns on the front porch. They bring life to my outdoor surroundings from spring until fall. The flowers and leaf variations add color to my home. Since I love to decorate; mixing and matching flowers and leaf variations allow me to beautify the outside like the inside of my home. My creative juices flow when I place the flowers in the soil and coordinate the colors.

One morning, as I was watering the plants, it occurred to me that the perennials and the annuals are quite different. The perennials are permanent; they come back each year showing their vibrant colors and beautiful foliage. The annuals require planting each year, only to die out when cool weather arrives.

The perennials remind me of God’s Word. After they are planted, their root system develops a strong foundation for the plants to come back each spring. Isn’t this like God’s Word? If we spend time reading the Bible and memorizing scripture, it is embedded in our minds and hearts so that we can recall the passages that are needed in times of joy and in trials. Not only for ourselves, but to encourage others who are suffering and experiencing adversity.

The prophet, Jeremiah, had reached a point of desperation after the fall of Jerusalem. He spoke of the anguish that the people had gone through. Then he recalls God’s faithfulness. In Lamentations 3: 22-24, Jeremiah states, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”

This passage of scripture in Lamentations inspired Thomas Chisolm, in 1923, to birth one of the greatest modern hymns regarding the faithfulness of God.  In stanza one, he writes of God's unchanging character and unfailing compassions.  In stanza two, he writes of God's faithfulness in maintaining the order of His universe.  In stanza three, he writes of God's faithfulness in forgiving our sins, providing strength for today and hope for tomorrow.  Each stanza leads to the great culminating chorus that declares the victorious words of Jeremiah, "Great is Thy faithfulness."

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin And a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today And bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, With ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

We can see this in Isaiah 55:11 too. We are reminded of the power of the Word. The Lord says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (NKJV) When we recall the Word of God and share it with someone, it does not return void. It stands firm and cuts through anything we face. His Word restores life to His people just as the rain brings life to the flowers and plants.

As you enjoy your flowers this year, take a few moments to think about the perennials and God’s Word. They both bring beauty and life to us and return blessings to us. May the perennials be a reminder of God’s goodness and how steadfast His Word is. Are we spending time in the scriptures so that we can recall God’s faithfulness? ARE WE PLANTING PERENNIALS IN LIVES? If so, they will come back to bless us over and over again!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thanks for the Happiness by Brad Bridges

“Thanks for the happiness.” As I walked by, the sign caught my attention. What made this person happy? Who were they thanking? Seriously, it’s a little odd to hang a sign outside your house anyway.

Then I realized they were referring to the World Cup. This month the World Cup ended. It’s pretty much the biggest sporting event in the world outside of America. Millions of people stop virtually everything they’re doing to watch their team, if not all the games. This year, an unprecedented number of us Americans watched the games.

These people (with the sign) were thanking the players for making them happy. They bought fabric, painted a sign, hung it outside, and left it for days. Why? To say thank you for this new feeling of happiness they had.

Ever done that? Ever found yourself pumped up because of a team? I have. Sometimes I feel proud (as if I had anything to do with the win). It feels awesome to win. It means someone else lost. Ahhhh. Wait! That’s no good. Who wants to celebrate the demise of others.

Many times, when we win, we celebrate because it makes us feel like winners. We get so captivated by the event, by the feeling, by the joy, by the change in status. I wonder how much of it is about the sport itself and how much is about the heart. Let me explain.

When our temperament changes drastically due to a game, we legitimately are excited. Thrilled. Elated. But I find an emptiness after winning when the joy has worn off. I find an emptiness every time I lose. Why is that?

Personally, I put too much of my emotions, hopes, and thoughts into sports events. As a Tar Heel fan, I occasionally want to vomit after the Heels lose to Duke. I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and want to hide. In a sense, if I’m not careful, I can find my identity in sports.

Sports bring joy to my life. Sports also bring pain and emptiness. After the Heels, the Panthers, or some other team loses or wins, I need to be careful. When they win, I think I’m something special because I was pulling for them. When they lose, I feel like I personally just lost.

I’ll always watch sports and play every sport possible. What I want to avoid though, is the feeling of finding my identity in the sports I play. I don’t want to act out my own emotional issues on the field or through others.

Sports, like vacations, movies, and so many other things, allow us to escape the monotony of day-to-day life and work. Rest and relaxation helps us. Self medicating or placing hope in temporary things does not.

The next time you watch a sporting event or a movie, buy a new outfit, or get excited about a new car, stop and ask yourself a few questions:

What is it that I find so fulfilling about this event, thing, or experience?

Am I getting my satisfaction from inappropriate things?

When was the last time my time with God gave me joy like this? Pain like this?

May I (and you) define our experiences in ways that direct appropriate gratitude to the source of them. Let’s aim to enjoy various activities in life, but to not source our identity in them. It’s possible that the person whose sign said, “Thanks for the happiness,” was simply saying thank you to the players for the great games. However, they may have been living vicariously through their team, receiving their satisfaction and joy from life’s events rather than from their Creator. We’ll never know.

Let’s be people whose lives reflect a contentment in what God has given us and taken away. True happiness only comes in contentment with God and His actions in, through, and around us. Let’s aim to make our lives virtual signs pointing to God that say, “Thanks for the happiness.”

Brad, Lindsey and Shiloh Bridges recently moved to Uruguay to serve as Cross Cultural Servants in preparation for long term service in Spain with CAM International.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Philippians Flip by Tammy Blackburn

I have always been fascinated with different forms of art and how it has evolved through the generations. I especially enjoy paintings because you get a glimpse into the viewpoint and imagination of the artist. Nearly every painting tells a tale of what the artist valued or disliked. Paintings capture emotion and can tell the tale of what lies deep within a person. Different colors and different types of strokes can speak volumes about the artist’s frame of mind. Recently, I was intrigued by one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. It was actually the last one he ever painted. It is titled “The Wheat Field.”

Van Gogh interpreted this painting for us. He told a family member the crows in the painting represent a sign of foreboding and death. The three paths leading into the field show the indecision we face in life. Even if we could decide which path to take, they are cut-off and end abruptly. The darkness of the skies indicates a storm coming in to destroy the field and any life that remains. Van Gogh painted this picture in July of 1890, and in the same month went out into the field and shot himself in the chest. He died three days later.

Philippians 4:8 tells us, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (NIV)

I have to wonder, if Van Gogh had applied this principle to his life that July, would he have interpreted the painting the same way? Would he have gone out into the field and ended his life in such fashion? Perhaps the crows could have been a reminder of the glorious handiwork of God. They are magnificent creatures that have the ability to soar on the wind. Their black feathers shimmer with a rainbow of colors as the light dances around them. Instead of indecision, the paths could be viewed as opportunities to experience something new. The clouds that seem dark and threatening in the painting need not be a threat. Rather, they could be seen as God’s provision of rain for the golden crop growing in the field. They are not meant to destroy life, but to bring life.

We face many situations in life every day and we must choose whether to see them as something negative or something positive. I am dismayed at how many times I hear people attribute a circumstance to Satan. “Satan must be attacking; I had a flat tire this morning.” “Satan is fighting to keep me down; so many bad things have happened lately.” Why give Satan so much credit?! He is not omnipotent. He is not omnipresent! Certainly he attacks, but what better way to resist him than to find the good in what is happening?

I like to call it the Philippians flip. Whenever I am faced with a situation, I can choose to find all that is bad about it, or I can look on the flip side. What is truth? God is in control. He has good things planned for me. What is noble and right? Because the Holy Spirit dwells within me, I have the ability to respond with a smile, with kindness, with humility, with patience, and so on. I can focus on all that is wrong or I can focus on what God is doing in the moment. Do I look at a crow and see a predator and scavenger, or do I see the intricate design of his feathers? Can I be amazed and stand in awe that my Creator God made such an animal to keep His world clean? Every circumstance is an opportunity to see God at work. Every situation is an opportunity for growth. But, it is our responsibility to dwell on things that are true and good. Look for the flip-side!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Searching for Silver by Kendra Cervantes

Proverbs 2:1-5
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.

A bright Saturday morning. The car was packed with water and snacks as we drove up the dusty Mexican road to the city of Taxco, south of Mexico City. I sat in the back seat of the van, my pride hurt from being told by a missionary, whom I didn’t know that well, that my friend and I were not allowed to go to Acapulco on our two-day break from teaching English. It was too dangerous for us to go by ourselves and he didn’t want to take us. As the car putted along, I remember thinking, Lord, I just wanted the experience. I just wanted to say,

“Yea, I went to Acapulco during Spring Break.”

As we approached the city, my face was probably green from carsickness, my feet swollen from being slightly dehydrated, and my eyes sad from not getting what I wanted. I sought after that trip to Acapulco and tried everything I could to go, but that experience wasn’t what the Lord had for me. As the mountains began to break, a city set into the side of the mountains began to appear. Buildings whiter than snow, I felt like I was in heaven, literally. The sun beat down on the cobble stone roads, and the rooftops twinkled like diamonds. For the next several hours, the goal (according to the missionary) was to spend the day understanding each other more and relaxing. Well, since I was here, I might as well make the best out of it for myself and make up for lost souvenir-buying time I would have had in Acapulco.

I was going to find something that I wanted to buy, so I set my heart on a silver pendant of the Aztec calendar. A friend of mine had one and I liked the way it looked, so I decided I wanted something to remind me of the culture and people AND, more importantly, to show off to my friends. I spent the entire day searching for this necklace. The city had to have one somewhere, after all, it is called “The Silver City.” Store after store the venders would shake their heads and say, “Sorry, we don’t have those.” The day was coming to an end and we needed to leave before the sun set. I said, “One more store! Please!” as I went running up some stairs to another jewelry shop.

Finally! I found it! In a store set back on a side street, the necklace I had been looking for all day! Look everyone! But at what cost? I spent the day worried about finding a piece of jewelry to show off, rather than spending that time getting to know my friends and the missionary more. I wanted the chance to say, “I bought this in Mexico.” I was looking for an experience—a future experience at that—and not to understand anyone more. I lacked wisdom in knowing how to prioritize my desire for an “experience” over understanding, over people, over whatever else the Lord had for me to learn.

One thing that the Lord has taught me through all of my journeys is to seek Him and not the experience. To seek to know Him more. To seek to understand Him more.

“…if you seek it [it being UNDERSTANDING, WISDOM, KNOWING GOD] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:4-5)

Holy Cow! Like a ton of bricks on my face!

I started thinking, “Have I sought after the Lord, His words, and His commandments the way I sought after this piece of jewelry?” Do I have a heart inclined to seek wisdom, or am I aimlessly looking for the chance to brag about my traveling experiences or the things I have?

“If you seek it like silver…”

Seeking the Lord like silver isn’t easy for anyone. It is much easier to ignore the task of seeking for the Lord than to have a reckoning with yourself, and with your motives. To put what you want out of your experiences over what the Lord wanted to teach you through them.

Now I wear this necklace as a reminder to myself of my time in Taxco, but more importantly of my priorities. My challenge to you is the same as to myself: seek the Lord and not just the experience.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Kendra Cervantes, from Aurora, IL.  She graduated from the Moody Bible Institute with a Bachelors of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) and Bible. Before Moody, she was exposed to overseas missions trips and knew that the Lord was calling her to serve Him in another country. Through a series of divine appointments, Kendra joined CAM International in Dallas, TX. After support raising for 1 1/2yrs, she departed for Montevideo, Uruguay on June 16th, 2010 where she will serve on a church planting team. Kendra will spend the next two years being trained and mentored under veteran missionaries. Her heart's desire is to serve long term in Spain, mobilizing Latinos in the less reached areas of the world.