Monday, October 27, 2014

Praise Him

Last week, I had one of “those” mornings – you know- one of “those” mornings when everything seems to go wrong.  We have all had them and wish we could have seen what was coming so that we could avoid them. 

It was the first day of a new teaching job and I thought I was prepared.  I had driven to campus the day before so I knew that it would take 25 minutes to get there.  I had my clothes picked out and pressed.  I had my lesson plans set, all of my papers copied and ready to give out to the students.  Well, the morning didn’t go quite as I expected.

It all started with the morning commute.  I left my house a full 65 minutes ahead of class time which would seem to be plenty of time to get there, park, and arrange my classroom.  The first part of the commute was going along fine, but then I saw it:  lots of brake lights and cars inching along.  There was an accident ahead of me and I still had about 5 miles to go.  I didn’t know any alternate routes since it was a new route to me.  I tried calling my husband to see if he knew another way to get to my destination, but he didn’t pick up.  I started to panic and a few choice words started to come into my mind and out of my mouth.

Finally, I made it to campus with about 10 minutes until the class would start and began to look for parking.  The day before, I had found parking with no problem, so I assumed it would be the same way.  I went to Parking Lot A and found no spaces and then on to B with no success.  Then, I remembered that I could park in a special lot for staff but I needed my name badge to open the gate.  Where had I put that thing?  I finally dug my badge out of my bag and proceeded to swipe my badge to lift the parking gate.  I did it once; it didn’t move.  Then, I did it again and again, but the parking gate didn’t budge.  By this time, there were some impatient drivers behind me waiting to do what I could not.  Thankfully, another employee who had arrived before me took mercy on me and came and swiped her card so that I could get into the parking lot.  I quickly gathered my things and ran to class. 
There were other annoyances that day and that week for that matter.  Sometimes we have “those” days, weeks, or seasons where our best made plans don’t work out.   Our response to those events is what God wants us to be mindful of.    Do we rest in HIS presence or do we start to fall apart at the first hint of trial?  Do we begin to say (or think) words of anger or words of praise?   I wish that I could say that I give God words of praise in the annoying moments of everyday life.  I can’t.  Unfortunately, many times I say (or think) words that aren’t pleasing to HIM. 

I read something recently that has begun to help me see things differently:  “When everything is going great , we should praise Him with everything we have. When everything feels like it's falling apart, we can rest in the knowledge that God is still good and deserves just as much praise!” 
God deserves our praise for what He has already done.  If HE never does another thing for us, HE has already given us the most amazing gifts.  Despite our surrounding circumstances, HE has already paid the price for our sin, given us a purpose, and promised us HE will be with us through every trial we face. Give HIM praise today!  Find something to be thankful for and tell HIM. 

Psalm 51:5  "Lord, open my lips. My mouth shall declare your praise."
Prayer:  Lord, I thank you for all of the blessings that you have given me.  Thank you for life and breath and your amazing creation.  Help me to praise you in the midst of life's annoyances.  I praise you today! Amen.

Angela Sutsakhan

Monday, October 20, 2014

How's Your Fruit?


            “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Galatians 5:22

     Just the other day I had the opportunity to display all of the above, but instead chose to show not a one.  I became frustrated over a situation at work and reacted in a way that exhibited not even a trace of fruit.   As I responded to an upsetting situation I had no patience, no peace, no goodness, no gentleness, and no self-control.  I stewed alone for five minutes, and then when I saw my three colleagues I let loose all the words I’d been rehearsing in my mind as I waited for them to join me.  Been there, done this?
     It was only after I walked away from everything and felt the unrest inside me that I realized I had to ask for forgiveness for my actions.  I felt I needed to do this immediately, and since I could not leave my area, I took a moment to send all of them an e-mail.  I began the e-mail with, “I need to ask your forgiveness for my outburst.”  I spent a minute wrestling with my reaction not being an outburst, as that sounded so severe.  Then I stared at the computer screen and I felt the Holy Spirit clearly say, “It was an outburst, call it what it was.”  And I did.  Outburst…was it the most comfortable word I’ve ever used to describe my behavior?  No, it was not, but it was definitely the position of humility God desired of me in that apology.

     I often think about the way children throw around the word “sorry.”  When they are asked to apologize for something they have done, “sorry,” in their eyes, is sufficient to cover everything.  They say it and it is over.  First Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man (woman), I put childish ways behind me.”  As a woman continually working toward maturity in Christ, I need to ask forgiveness for my sins first of Jesus Who is the most offended by my disobedience, and then of any others I have offended.  A simply “sorry” is not enough.
      How would your family say you are showing love, patience, gentleness, goodness…as you relate to them each day?  Do your co-workers see joy, peace, kindness, self-control…when those difficult situations arise?  Has the Holy Spirit laid on your heart someone who needs to hear, “Forgive me for…”  Humble yourself and just do it!  He receives the glory and you receive His peace and freedom.  The choice is yours.

 Donna Bowles

Monday, October 13, 2014

Factory Reset

I “lost it” a couple of weeks ago.

I got a text from my office manager, telling me of some decisions that would affect my schedule. Changes I didn’t want, changes I didn’t like, changes I decided to get angry over. I felt the heat start somewhere in my midsection and then rise up into my face and head, like an old fashioned thermometer. I started pacing around, my mind racing. Instead of sinking to my knees in prayer, which at this point in my spiritual walk I should know to do, I stalked to the phone.

I called my poor unsuspecting mother and ranted and raved at the injustice I was suffering.  When she tried to insert some calm and reason into my monologue, I abruptly hung up. (If you know my saintly mother, insert a GASP here-my children certainly did when I admitted my bad behavior to them)

I went to bed angry and I think the reason Ephesians 4:26 warns us not to do that is because at about three in the morning, you always awaken to the fact that you acted like a fool.

It was at that hour of the morning that I finally had the conversation with the Lord that I should have had when I received the text from my manager. I admitted to Him that what that text really incited in me was fear. And that in fearing what was happening at work, when I got down to the core of the matter, I didn’t trust Him to take care of me.

Conviction of sin is a beautiful gift from God. It is that nagging sensation that something is not right in your soul and in your relationship with the Lord. It is a warning light on the dashboard of your spirit saying "Stop." I felt convicted of my sin, I admitted I wasn't trusting God's faithfulness and I asked His forgiveness. (Don't worry; I apologized to my mom too!)

The next day I asked God if He ever tires of forgiving me. Does He ever want to say, "Sister, you are wearing me out!" Does He really remove my sins as far as east is from west?

He answered by using my Nook. A Nook is an e-reader by Barnes and Noble and mine had stopped working. I'm sure it was my fault as technology and I have a love/hate relationship. I had somehow snarled my Nook into a knot of electronic death and wasn't sure it would ever recover. I decided to Google the solution and by pressing two buttons simultaneously while holding my breath and jumping on one leg, my Nook came back to life. It then asked me a beautiful question, "Restore to Factory settings?"

And God spoke. He is our Creator, the human heart Factory Foreman. He knows we need Him when we get our lives snarled and twisted and, like the perfect Father that He is, it gives Him pleasure when we bring it to Him to fix.  He does not tire of forgiving us because He knows how we are made.

 Psalm 103:13-14 As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.

So how about you? Any lights blinking on the dashboard of your soul? Bring the problem to your Father; He is faithful to restore the human heart to His factory settings.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s Psalm 103: 1-5

Cyndi Word

Monday, October 6, 2014

Skinny Jeans

I got to thinking about stretchy, skinny jeans today. Setting aside the insane sizing variations of women’s clothing that defies common sense, skinny jeans would seem to have been an ingenious invention.  It is only with skinny jeans that a size 6 might be loose, but a size 12 in another company’s garment won’t zip up.  I don’t think that I’m alone when I say that the stretchy jeans seem to run a little smaller than a comparable product without the stretch.  When we’re on the skinny side of the closet, not many women will buy a pair of stretchy jeans that is a higher size than most of the other slacks in their closet.  It might be psychological, but I know I’d be the first to say I wouldn’t!

I am perfectly happy in cozy clothes in my comfort zone, doing the things I feel led of the Lord to do and content to be right where I am.  But sometimes God personally nudges us to “stretch” a little.   This happened to me recently where I could not turn a deaf ear to God.  I determined that I would not seek an opportunity to step out, but that if He wanted me to stretch, he’d have to somehow invite me so that I’d know He was with me.  Shortly after that, I was asked to be an apprentice facilitator at Manorwood.  I would have to say that I accepted that invitation with much personal hesitation, but knowing full well that God was the instigator.  Never once did I feel “called” of God to lead; it was more of a means to flush my weaknesses to the surface, to deal with them, and to "grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord" (2 Peter 3:18). 
I’m so grateful for the patience of the women in our small group, as I floundered in this role.  After spending some time on my knees before arriving, I felt confident that the Lord would do all the work while I simply yielded, but a funny thing happened once I entered the room…my nerves got the better of me.  I started losing that sense of the Lord’s presence, and like Peter who took his eyes off the Lord and took a look at his environment, I felt myself sinking.  There was no actual “inner dialogue” other than “Lord help me”, but those nerves just stifled my sense of rest in the Lord.  I have a deep appreciation for those who make that role look so easy and natural, but as introvert, it is very unnatural for me. 

Over the years, I have learned to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and yet I was ill prepared to deal with those nerves which seemed to have a life of their own!  While I truly appreciated the encouraging words of some of the other women, I was not under any delusion regarding how I handled facilitating.  I would best describe my experience as facilitator as “awkward”.  I don’t have the personality for it, but I’m willing to make a fool of myself, if it purges me of the remnants of “self” that stir my emotions when I enter a room full of women to do something that I have no natural talent to do.  It makes no difference what my life experience is; if I can’t be in a room with my sisters-in-Christ and learn how to walk this anxiety provoking role in the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7,) how will I ever stand before ridiculing persecutors? 
Sometimes I pick up a pair of stretchy, skinny jeans and they fit, but other times I try on a pair and all I can see is every bump and roll.  I’m not able to get the zipper up, but unless I try them on, I’ll never know if they’ll fit, or if there are areas that need work. We should only go where the Sheperd leads us and in that way, we have the confidence that not every path leads to a destination, but it is part of the journey for the days ahead.

Deborah J Claypool

 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Connection

In our world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and texting, it would seem that we are more connected than we have ever been.  I can go to Facebook and see pictures of my friend’s amazing European vacation, and I can see pictures of her new grandkids.  Through Facebook I can get a glimpse of what is going on in my friend’s and family’s lives, seeing the things that I can’t see in person.  We can receive hundreds of birthday well wishes on our special day.   But does this make us feel connection? 

Much of what we see on Facebook is glowing.  Rarely do I see the “real world” of someone’s life.  We never see that a Facebook friend’s husband is leaving her or that a friend’s brother was diagnosed with cancer.  I never see a post of someone who is struggling with an addiction or with the consequences of an affair.   Facebook posts tend to only show the good in our lives and that is not reality.  
We all have STUFF that we are struggling with now, hurts that won’t seem to go away or scars from the past that still haunt us and won’t release their grip on us.  These are the things that are real in our world:  Hurt, Anger, Betrayal, Loss, Sin, Pride, Loneliness, etc.   Most of the time, we can’t see that on Facebook.    Even though, in theory, we are the most “connected” we have ever been, if we are not careful, we let only the beautiful, clean, and perfect details of our lives to be seen by others.  This is not real connection because in all honesty, we can’t relate to people who seem to be perfect and have it all together. 
What, then, is real connection?  It is being in honest, authentic relationships with others and being accountable to others.  We were created for relationship – first and foremost with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and secondly, with other believers.  We can’t do life without our Christian sisters in our lives.  Well, we can, but it’s not the life that God intended for us.  It’s not the full, abundant life that HE created us for.  We must have our sisters in the Lord to sharpen us and to keep us in check.  We need the support and encouragement of each other, and we need the prayers of others. 

This past week, I was so glad that I had someone like that in my life to hold me accountable.  I needed to be asked a hard question, and I needed someone to speak truth to me.   She didn’t worry about my reaction or if I would think she was being nosy.  She was more concerned about my spiritual life, and she was willing to be honest with me.  The truth is, I need someone asking me the tough questions, and I need someone checking up on me because I need accountability.   Proverbs 27:17 states that “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.  This verse spoke volumes to me this week as I thought about how much I need my Christian sisters in my life. 
God continues to reveal areas of my life that aren’t fully surrendered to HIM.  That’s why I need someone to help me see the things that I sometimes don’t see, the things that maybe (if I’m really honest with myself) I don’t want to see.  There are things I want to cover up, rationalize, explain away, and say, “it’s just who I am and always will be”.   That’s where my community of Christ followers comes in – they are there to gently show me the things that I have turned a blind eye to.  They are there to be authentic, honest, open and transparent with me.  This is what I need and this is what the Father wants for all of us. 

Be willing to listen to the person God is allowing to sharpen you. And be willing to have the difficult, yet life-changing conversation with the person God has put in your path to sharpen. 
This week, my prayer is that God will show us how to live this way with the people HE has connected us to.    

Angela Sutsakhan

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Redemption Center

“We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.”  Colossians 1:14

In my town, recycling is picked up every Wednesday morning.  My job is to have the empty containers rinsed and out to the curb by 6:00 am. The containers I have emptied have no real value to me anymore.  Sometime during the morning the bin is emptied of everything, and then I begin accumulating items for the next week. The payment I get for all of this is the satisfaction that I am helping the environment by recycling.

Recently I was in an area of the country that had lots of buildings with big signs that said Redemption Center. I confess at first, I thought there was some spiritual affiliation to the name.  However, I learned Redemption Centers are small businesses that accept empty containers for redemption, which require sorting to obtain their refund value.  These empty containers are accepted from the public, and then their refund value is paid.
How blessed we are that Jesus accepts us as “empty containers.”  Notice above that the containers are rinsed and not washed.  There may be some residue in them from the past, but they don’t have to be perfectly cleaned to begin moving toward redemption.  Jesus truly is the only One that can fill our void.  Other attempts at filling may last for a while, but until we fill our emptiness with Him, we will never be satisfied.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3:22b-24

Empty containers “from the public” (that’s you and me) are accepted regardless of their past, and because Jesus cares about their future, both now and in eternity.  No one is ever too far from His reach.  Neither is the person you consider “least likely to be saved.” In His eyes we are all the same… in need of a Savior.  You are saved by grace, which is undeserved favor, through faith.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Our “refund value,” the amazing love He lavishes on us, is the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made to save us and give us the promise of Eternal Life.  There is no sorting through to obtain your refund value.  Jesus paid the price once for all and in “full.”  Nothing you can do will earn redemption because it has already been accomplished on the cross.
“In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Ephesians 1:7

In Redemption Centers, the owners determine the type of empty beverage containers to be accepted.  Not so with Jesus.  He desires for us all to come to Him.  Have you? Are you in need of a Savior who already knows everything you have ever done?  Will you empty yourself of you and receive His love and forgiveness?  There will be applause in Heaven as you come!
Lord, may we never be so full of us that there is no room for you.  Thank you for accepting us when we come to you.

Donna Bowles

Monday, September 15, 2014

Be Bold for Jesus

What does it mean to be Bold for Jesus?

I have heard sermons preached on this subject and the message is clear enough:  be Bold for Jesus! But I am left thinking, "Ok.  How?"

According to Webster's Dictionary, the definition of bold is "Not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff; courageous and daring"
Ok.  What Now?  This definition only creates more questions.
"How do I approach someone?" "What do I say?"                                                               "When will I know the time is right?"   "What if I am too scared?"

Do you see the mistake I am making? The one word those questions have in common is "I".  Is it up to ME? Absolutely not.  God is in charge. Not me.
Personally, this past week I have been reminded of that more than I cared to be with the passing of my very first (and hopefully last) kidney stone. The pain was unbearable, but the reality of how fragile my health is and how dependent on God I am is humbling.  I am so thankful for Kim, my RN, who came to my aide while I was in the ER.  I am so thankful for my recovery and how God was there every step of the way.

Did that make me Bold?
I would like to say a resounding, "Yeah!" -with my fist raised victoriously in the air, but the answer is no.  Ironically, the realization came of what boldness looks like when I was feeling relief from the pain and on my way out of the hospital.

As I was a walking slowly down the hall, an elderly lady was being wheeled into the ER. She was frail and had lesions all over her body. She was whimpering to the nurse two simple words, "Help me".  I passed her to walk out of the door and she reached her hand out to me.  Our eyes met and she exclaimed again in a tiny voice, "Help me".

I said a prayer as I walked by, but I remember distinctly that I felt the push of the Holy Spirit to take her hand and pray out loud.  Sadly, I did not act on God's call for me.  Now, could I justify it and say I was too ill and medicated?  Yes, but my heart knows better.  I now know from that missed opportunity how to be Bold for Jesus.  It means responding to that push of His call and He will do the rest.  He will present events in our lives. All we have to do is obey.   Will it be out of our comfort zone?  Absolutely, but this is what He calls us to do.
Pray with me:  Jesus, I pray I do not miss another moment to be Bold for You. I pray I am obedient to Your call and that I take myself and my selfish thoughts out of the way and let you take control.

Joshua 1:9:  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Let God have the final say. Be Bold for him.

Coleen Trainor