Monday, December 15, 2014

Unhealthy Vines

Every year my family and I venture out to choose a Christmas tree to cut down and put in our house.  My husband has always gravitated to the largest trees. About 13 years ago, we built an addition to our house, which is larger than the original house, and my husband specifically designed our living room with cathedral ceilings solely for the purpose of accommodating a 12 foot Christmas tree.  I don’t know if that is normal or not, but he’ll tell everyone that’s the only reason we have cathedral ceilings.

Because our usual Christmas tree farm was closing, we all went to another Tree farm in the Hagerstown area where my son and his family live.  He came with us looking for a smaller tree for his home, while we were looking for a humongous tree to justify our cathedral ceilings.  We happened on this farm and were directed to where the “big trees” were.  We trudged up and down the snowy aisles of trees and were dismayed to see that every single tree was bound with vines. These vines caused the trees to have dead branches and grow awkwardly.  After an hour of walking around, it was evident that we were not going to find our tree there. We wondered how the owners could have allowed these trees to become so overrun by vines.
We reasoned that the younger trees were probably better cared for, so off we trudged to the other side of the farm to help my son look, only to be disappointed that these trees were also wrapped with vines and disfigured.  Even the baby trees were weighed down to the earth and entangled. As we were leaving without a tree, I commented to the owners “You know… all your trees have vines growing over them”.  One man responded “Oh yeah, I know.  We’ll cut them off for you when you bring it up here”. Then I added “But the vines are killing your trees!” I thought that might make an impact, since the trees are not much use if they are sickly and dying. I never gave it another thought until the Lord impressed upon me this morning how we can be like those trees.

When we have earthly vines weaved into the ever-green life we have in Christ, these vines bind us and eventually weigh us down. It is sometimes difficult to discern what these worldly entanglements are, since we are well accustomed to them, having been born into their lecherous grip.  I believe the Lord would have us realize that these vines are asphyxiating the spiritual life out of us. We are warned by the Holy Spirit speaking through PaulAll things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any… All things are lawful for me…not all things edify….(1Cor.6:12/10:23)
See then that you walk circumspectly…(Eph.5:15).  If we do not, the world has a way of attaching to us like one of those vines, hindering our growth and fellowship with our Father. Clearly there is much of the world infiltrating the church, but do we recognize whether we ourselves have worldly vines wrapping around us? The truth is, when we are born again, we are born into spiritual warfare. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life. (2 Tim. 2:4) The victory we have in Christ is dependent upon our separation from the world. Whatever thing of this world that exerts any power over us is a worldly vine.  

Do we indulge ourselves or deny ourselves? Do we yield to cravings or fast from them? The quickest way to determine if one is enslaved to something is to try to walk away from it.

Deborah J Claypool

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Free Gift

Sometimes a girl just needs a chocolate croissant. Today was one of those days. I had some time during a break at work to take a long walk and thanks to that wonderful thing called "girl-logic" I decided the reward for my healthy walk would be the pastry I had been craving since morning.

There is a Wholefoods not far from where I work and, still a bit breathless from my trek, I made my way into their bakery section. I was distracted by some other possibilities, but ended up following my original plan and picked out the biggest chocolate croissant they had. I slipped the delicious flakiness into a bag and made my way to the checkout line. A young man waved me on and I put my bag onto the counter. He rang it up and I pulled some money from my pocket.
Then he did something surprising. He said, "Don't worry about it-no charge." I didn't know how to react. I asked him why and he said, "Just because." I profusely thanked him- I told him that he and the chocolate croissant I was about to sink my teeth into had literally made my day.  I walked away and texted my daughter about the encounter.  I told her it must be because of my sassy new haircut. The absurdity of that made her day.

I got into my office and told each of my coworkers about my free dessert.

That's when it hit me. Receiving something without cost is shocking in today's culture and it makes us tell someone about the experience.

Why then are we so hesitant to tell people of the most amazing gift we have ever received? The world needs to know about the free gift of God's salvation. They need to hear about grace and mercy and forgiveness and the wild love of the Savior. We need to share with them the gift we ourselves have received, the gift of hope.
Christianity is the only hope for this broken world because there’s no other way for the broken to get the Nails they need to rebuild.~ Ann Voskamp

We have received an amazing free gift, so why in the world aren't we telling everyone we meet? And, just as importantly, what are we going to do about it?
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.   Psalm 107:2

Cyndi Word                     

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

      That’s one of those songs isn’t it?  The Christmas classic you can count on hearing again and again during the holiday season.  I have already attended a Christmas concert, and that was one of the songs we sang in unison.  Sitting beside me was my mom who beamed as she sang and then after said, “I am going to go home and find that Andy Williams CD.”  It brings her comfort and joy.

     Growing up, although that song played a lot in my home, it sometimes was more like the most unusual time of year.  Shortly before Christmas when I was 16, my mom was asked to marry a man she had not known very long, but who said he’d take care of her and the four of us.  She’d been a single mom for a while and felt he was God’s way of caring for us, so they were married.  He came into our home the beginning of December with his 2 daughters, and the blended family and traditions began.  I remember wondering why anyone would want to put angel hair all over a beautifully decorated tree!  It’s called compromise.

     A couple of years later I met my husband and we began our own traditions.  One of the most exciting for me was to open presents on Christmas morning instead of at midnight on Christmas Eve, which had been our family’s way of celebrating.  It later became for us the most cherished time of the year.  In those early years of our marriage, we wanted to start a family, but both of my pregnancies had ended in miscarriages.  Then one May I was told I was pregnant with a due date of December 31st.  God’s perfect timing, however, determined that Michael would be an added blessing to our celebration of Christmas that year, so he put him in our arms on December 14th.  After a time in the hospital because of jaundice, we brought him home on the 21st.  My favorite picture that Christmas is of him in his baby seat under our tree.  What a blessing!  Three years later God gave us the gift of Emily on January 1st.

     We celebrated many Christmases over the years, but it wasn’t until after Emily was in preschool that we began attending church as a whole family.  Our children were in Sunday school and we were as well.  I remember the first children’s Christmas program we attended.  My father, who did not attend church, came with us to see our kids perform.  I remember being so happy that he chose to come.  Christmas had become for us the most sacred time of the year as we experienced Advent together, and we wanted to share that with him.

     For me, the past 10 years with Mike’s illness and passing, have at times made this the most difficult time of the year.  Some years have been better than others.  Through it all, I have never lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas and the gift it is to have faith, and to know Jesus as my Savior.  I cannot imagine going through a moment, good or bad, without Jesus.  He continues to be my Rock and my comforter and that will never change.  Everything else changes, but not Him.

     So where are you as we begin this Advent Season?  Will you honestly fill in the blank?  It’s the most____________ time of the year.  If you thought of a word and sighed within, what changes can you make to help your preparation for Jesus’ coming?  Is there anything you could lay down (give up) and exchange for some guilt-free time alone with the Savior of the World?  Who do you know who needs to know about The Way in a manger this Christmas?

Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6 

"Let every heart prepare Him room."
 
Donna Bowles

Monday, November 24, 2014

Come in, Lord Jesus

Mark 2:13-16 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

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Oh, Jesus, I get it. I understand why you wanted to eat with sinners.

I have sat around a table and broken bread with a group of women that our modern world would call sinners. We have laughed and talked and eaten way too much chocolate together. Then after the bread has been broken, we have broken open your word. We have swallowed down your hard truths and your beautiful love and your limitless grace. It has been glorious, an authentic place without the masks we often hide behind. 
And I have had the privilege to spend a moment inside the prison walls in Hagerstown. I was there after a weekend of your missionaries sharing the Good News with these brothers behind bars. I found your church in that place. I was blessed to stand with them and sing loud and off-key of your mercy and forgiveness. I heard them speak, tears streaming down their faces, of the love they never dared hope to find. They spoke of acceptance and the chance for a new beginning. Their souls soared beyond the guard towers and the barbed wire as they spoke of  You.

No wonder you loved to abide with sinners. You saw first-hand what a true encounter with you has the power to do to a wounded soul.
Forgive us Lord, when we forget we are sinners. Woe to us, like the Pharisees, when we deny our absolute need for you. When we measure our sins as small compared to some. Remind us that our righteousness is “as filthy rags” when compared to your holiness.

Help us to be real with each other.  Remind us of your grace and may we grant that grace to each other, for there is no room for judgment around a table of sinners.
Thank you that you still desire to dine with sinners so much that you stand at the door of our hearts and continually knock.

Come in, Lord Jesus, forever and always, come in. Amen.
Cyndi Word

Monday, November 17, 2014

Making An Impact

I lost a dear friend this past week.  She was my mentor, friend, and a great encourager to me; she influenced my life in many ways.  She encouraged me in my faith journey and to be a better mother, wife, friend, and Christ follower. 

When I think of her, many wonderful words come to mind… kind, grateful, so very encouraging, and immensely positive.  She loved her family so much and enjoyed life to the fullest.  She was intentional in the way she lived her life – making her days count.  She said to me on many occasions that she was in Act III of her life and she wanted it to mean something.
Well, she meant a lot to me and to so many others.  I met her almost 9 years ago when I started attending the same church as her.  We met through women’s ministry and I got to know her well when the team began thinking about how to implement a women’s mentoring program.  We were having a hard time figuring out how to get it started since most of us had never had or been a mentor.  I mentioned that I had always wanted one and had even prayed for one.  She called me a few days after that conversation and said, “I think God wants me to be your mentor.  Would you like to start meeting together regularly?”   I was overjoyed and excited to begin this new adventure.   

Over a 2-3 year period, we met regularly.  She had me in her home, usually for a delicious meal.  I remember that she always had cloth napkins; it was one of her ways to make me feel extra special.  The food and hospitality were wonderful, but the most meaningful thing to me was the time we spent talking and praying.        
She made a huge impact on my life because she took in interest in my life.  She made time for me.  She was relational, she asked me questions about my life, and she prayed for me – nothing was off the table to talk about.  She was so encouraging; sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried.  But I always left her home feeling encouraged to keep going and pursuing my faith and to keep persevering as a wife and mother.  She was so positive and I felt loved and cared for by her.

She touched my life in an amazing way and I am a much better person for having known her and having spent time with her.  She influenced me in many different ways:  She inspired me to be a better friend to others by being a better listener.   She modeled to me the kind of friend I should be.  She made me aware that I need to be intentional with my life, making my days count, using my time to be a light in this world.    
As I looked around the very full room at her memorial service, I thought about how she must have influenced each of them.  People were there to celebrate the woman she was and the very impactful life that she had lived.  I left the service thinking about my own life and about how I’m doing as a wife, mother, and friend.  Do I invite others into my home for a meal?  Do I show them love and make them feel like they are the most important person in the world at that moment?  Do I take the time to really listen to those that God puts in front of me?  Do I make time to pray with them?    

One day it will be our memorial service.  What will others say about us?  Do we live impactful lives?  Do we make our days count?  Do we seek opportunities to be a blessing to someone?  Do we obey when God asks us to serve others?
I’m so glad my sweet friend was obedient to God when He asked her to be a mentor to me.  My life will never be the same because of her influence.  My hope is that I can be that same kind of person to others that she was to me.      

Angela Sutsakhan

Proverbs 10:7 "The memory of the righteous is a blessing". 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Who We Are In Christ

Citizen of Zion

What ‘ere you were before your birth
Is drowned beneath the sea
‘Tis who you are in Jesus Christ
And who you are is free
‘Tis Christ alone, exalted King
Who reigns with God above
His justice satisfied in Him
Who gave Himself in love
Forget the lies the devil tells
He only seeks to steal
The victory we have in Christ
Who crushed him with His heel
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice
Of Zion it will be said
This righteous soul was born in her
The flesh is reckoned dead

Deborah J Claypool
In our Red Hot Faith bible study, we have been studying about how we have to remember what God’s Word says about us in order to combat the lies that the devil tells us.  Satan wants to keep us in bondage to negative thinking and to replay the tapes in our minds that have been playing for years.  Thoughts like you’re not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, loved enough, etc.   we can fill in the blank with whatever lie is played most in our minds.

Debby’s poem reminds us that it is who we are in Christ that we must focus on.  We are free, we are loved, we are righteous, and we are victorious (among many other things) because of what God has done for us.  We must remember these truths as we go about our lives and stay focused on Scripture.  We may not always feel free, loved, righteous, or victorious, but when we believe God’s Word, it helps us to know it, even if we don’t feel it.  Today, rest in HIS love, HIS peace, and HIS redemption.
II Corinthians 5:17  ...anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Burdened? Not Any More

Have you ever given your burden over to God and then taken it back?  I have many times.  God receives my burdens over and over again, and when I think he isn’t moving fast enough, I am quick to yank back my request and to try and manage it myself.  I have found over and over again that only our Almighty God has shoulders big enough for all of our burdens.  We just need to pocket the fear and trust Him for the peace.

Recently I received some seemingly adverse news from my mammogram.  The radiologist had seen a shadow and needed to take additional films.  Can you relate? 
I was unprepared for what came next.  The technician let me know that the shadow was something and they were sending me up to Frederick for a sonogram.  When the technician brought me the order for the sonogram she laid a hand on my back and said “try to not worry.”  Hmmm, I thought “should I be worried?”

I went up to Frederick, had the sonogram and sure enough there was a small spot, but to me it looked HUGE.  The radiographer suggested a six month follow up but my primary care doctor asked that I meet with the breast surgeon.  The surgeon diagnosed a cyst and had me schedule a needle aspiration.  YIKES, A NEEDLE!
I had been calm and trusting up to the morning of the appointment.  I told everybody that I knew God had the situation in His hands and that whatever the outcome, I knew that He already knew my future and we would just deal with it when the time came.  The closer my husband and I got to the building, the more anxious I got.  As I pulled into the parking space, the tears started to flow.  I was scared…not so much of the pain but of what they might find.  My husband, an engineer, tried to comfort me with engineer speak…”they will numb you up honey…you won’t feel a thing.”  Was the pain my biggest fear?

I was fighting back tears as I walked down the hall to the procedure room with the nurse.  I was struggling to get ahold of my emotions as I waited in the room for the nurse to come and get me for the procedure.  I remembered Matthew 11:28:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  I called out to God and He did just that—he took the burden of fear pressing on me and gave me the calming peace that He promised.  I went through the procedure pain free with no adverse results and am back to being my old self again.
It is hard to let go of what burdens us and to trust God, mainly because we have to totally rely on our faith.  Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  We don’t see God toting our burdens, but he faithfully does.  When we honestly give our burdens over to Him, he does exactly what he says he will do and we rest in the Peace that is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer:  Almighty Father, it is through You and You alone that I find my peace.  Help me to always remember that you have the shoulders and strength to carry my burdens.  May I remember always trust You first and learn to not take back what I know you can carry.
Pat Sanders