Monday, September 1, 2014

A Contrary Wind

He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them (Mark 6:48)
We live in an environment where the “wind is against us”. We strain to cut through the wind, but we just don’t get very far.  In this scene, the 12 disciples are fighting to row against the wind for most of the night.  After staying back on shore for the first part of the night, Jesus set out walking on the water effortlessly. In fact, He was about to stroll past them, while they fruitlessly wrestled with the oars.
When the disciples saw him, they were terrified until He reassured them and climbed into the boat. Once Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, the wind ceased; there was no more struggle, only smooth sailing from then on.
Perhaps the wind remembers the rebuke of the Lord from a previous encounter as described earlier in this Gospel account, and behaves as soon as He is in their midst, but it is noteworthy that the word “wind” is so often used to describe the spiritual world.  We don’t know from whence it comes, or where it blows, yet it stirs up the physical realm.  The invisible wind caused the sea to violently respond.  They struggled against it and exhausted themselves, while Jesus who spent the time in prayer, strolled effortlessly by on top of the sea, unhindered and unaffected by the wind.  It is as though the winds parted, and the sea was restful wherever He planted His next step.
What if the disciples had turned back to where Jesus was and pleaded “Lord, without You, we are struggling against a contrary wind.  We have seen how the wind and waves obey You. Therefore we’ve come back to ask You to get into the boat with us.”  Maybe this is why Jesus waited on shore for so long. Perhaps He was wondering when it might occur to them that they were powerless without Him. By the forth watch,  it would appear that they were going to continue their fruitless struggle against the contrary wind, not asking for help, nor even praying for it, just fighting against the elements of the invisible world in the weakness of their flesh.
One can almost picture Jesus shaking His head as He decides He’s let them struggle long enough. He was about to stroll past them, onto the other side not taking notice of their plight.  It wasn’t cruelty that Jesus allowed them to exhaust themselves against this opposing wind; it was an object lesson.  We all must come to the end of ourselves sooner or later.
We can do nothing in our own strength.  There is an invisible contrary wind blowing against us, stirring up the physical world with its circumstances and interruptions.  We can fight against it in our strength, but it is a fruitless struggle and all that we accomplish is exhaustion.
We recall that the Lord had commissioned them earlier to go out two by two, proclaiming the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons. They returned feeling “empowered”.  Jesus had to demonstrate to them that they were utterly helpless without Him.  Their power depended upon Jesus.  The Scripture mentions that “their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:52). Whenever we think that we did something amazing, pride rears its ugly head hardening our hearts.  God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Pride is the sin that caused Lucifer’s fall, and it is the greatest disease to afflict mankind. This is the affliction of the old man, and why we must put him off.
We are entirely dependent upon Jesus, living in union with Him, abiding in Him.  He must be in our boat at all times if we are to get to the other side.  We must seek Him and ask Him if He is indeed sending us out, or is He calling us to “come aside by ourselves to a deserted place to rest a while”.  It is imperative that we are abiding in Him and being sensitive to His will.  We cannot have an agenda of our own.  We must surrender our agenda and wait upon God.
Deborah J Claypool

Monday, August 25, 2014

Leaning on HIM

As we round the corner from the summer and approach a new school year, I look back and wonder where the time has gone.   I don’t know about you, but this summer has whizzed by.  It has been a very full summer for our family and we’ve made some great memories, one of which was paddle boarding together at the beach.    It was an interesting experience, to say the least, and I was definitely out of my comfort zone.  We were dropped in the water in a marina and had to navigate around docked boats.  We had to fight the current and wind to return to our starting point by an agreed upon time, all while standing on a skinny board, trying to balance and paddle.  It was quite the challenge!

This experience made me think about other challenges that will be before me in the coming season of life and how I need to rely on the Lord in the midst of them.   
This season there will be a new challenge for my family:  my son is playing tackle football.  He’s only 12, but I feel like our world is going to change forever.  We’ve purchased all of the gear and talked about the possibility of injury.  My husband and I have tried to sync our schedules to be able to get him to practices and games each week.  I have to look away when I see him get tackled and try to remain calm in the midst.    

Next month, my daughter will get behind the wheel of a car for the first time as she will be getting her learner’s permit.  She’ll be learning the rules of the road and practice driving so that she meets the hours she needs to get her license.  I worry every time I think about it.  How will I ever be able to let her leave home for the first time as a new driver?    

Parenting surely isn’t for sissies.  As my children get older, they are becoming less and less dependent on me as they are able to do more for themselves.   Thus, I will have to depend more and more on God to help me through this process.  It was not until I became a parent that I truly learned to depend on the Lord; it wasn’t until then that I learned how much I truly needed HIM.  At each stage of their lives, I have learned how to depend on God in a different way. 

I know that during this current season of my life, HE will show me how to best parent my daughter and son at this stage of their lives.  With my son, I’ll be learning the ropes of tackle football, trudging through many nights of practice and the highs and lows of wins and losses.  With my daughter, I’ll have to lean on the Lord for patience as she is learning how to navigate a car on the freeways and side streets. 

Even thinking about how to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there is enough to make me anxious.  But God is faithful and gives us enough strength to get through each season HE has placed us in.  As we experience things way beyond our control, we learn a greater dependence on the Lord.  For when we are out of our element, HE is in HIS. 

As my kids are becoming older and more independent, I’m still learning the dance of when to step toward them and when to step back from them.   They are learning how to navigate their own walk with the Lord.  It will look different than mine, of course, but I want them to not have to learn the hard way as I did with some things in life.  As their mom, I want to protect them from the pain and hardships that come with some decisions.  This is another area where I have to rely on the Lord and HIS strength.  I’ll be praying my way through this season as I have with the other seasons of my children’s lives.    

Angela Sutsakhan

Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

Monday, August 18, 2014

Being Unsafe for the Sake of Christ

I read the sentences and they echo over and over in my mind.

"Jesus died to save us, not to make us safe. No one ever got saved unless someone else was unsafe." ~ Ann VosKamp

It makes me think of the policeman I walked along the sidewalk with last week. He was just a bit in front of me so the words on his vest were in my vision for several minutes. "Bomb Squad." I caught up with him at the crosswalk and we laughed together as I asked if anyone was ever happy to see him enter their building. He answered no, but they were happy to see him walk away.

What drives someone to that kind of work? Knowing you are entering in when everyone around you and even a part of your own mind, I am sure, is calling you to run in the other direction. Is it love for your fellow man? Duty? Honor?

That small conversation has been haunting me. Or more truthfully, it has been challenging me. It has left me thinking, aren't we as Christ followers called to rush into the lives and places that everyone else wants to run away from?

And then I read that sentence. "No one EVER got saved unless someone else was unsafe."

There are Christians living "unsafe" all around us.

The brave and wonderful woman who started a home for sex trafficked girls, leaving her secure corporate high-paying job to depend daily on the grace of God. She is unsafe. The men who walk into the prison and tell of the untamed mercy and forgiveness of the Savior. They are unsafe. That soft spoken, tenderhearted woman serving the refugees in Kenya. She is unsafe. Those friends of ours who carry their Bibles onto the local and foreign mission fields. They are unsafe. 

Ask them if it's worth it, this unsafe style of living and every single one of them will tell you yes. They know from experience that risking their lives for Christ is the only way one really, truly lives.

So let's be done with being safe. All of us who wear Christ's name need to be finished with being so comfortable in the fact that we are heaven bound, that we do no earthly good.

Let's run towards the shattered hearts, the explosive personalities, the tattered lives. Isn't that exactly what Jesus did for us?

John 15:12-13  My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Cyndi Word


Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Call to Personal Holiness

Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of life everlasting.”

Christian persecution has been an issue close to my heart for many years, particularly the fact that many Christians in this country have no idea that it has been going on.  It has been a story that the mainstream media has ignored.  Now, it is at an all-time high.  Jesus warns of the signs of the end times in Matthew 24:6-10. We need to be praying for our brothers and sisters in the faith, but also for personal holiness, without which, no one will see God. 

Throughout Scripture, God has used Christian persecution as fires of refining for the church.  If we hope to be effectual, we should all examine our lives to see if we are of a "double mind" or "half heart".  Do we have one foot in the world and one in heaven?   We can't serve two masters as that's the root of a lukewarm church.   It's not the lack of evangelism; it's the lack of personal holiness, which hardens the heart to the voice of God, and therefore, to the things of God.
In this country, we have been brainwashed to segregate our lives and portion out the secular and the sacred as if there were such a thing, but there is only light and dark.  So if we were to die today, could we say we've walked only in the light or are we sometimes shades of gray?  We bear in mind that "sin lets the devil in", and that certainly was realized in the life of Judas, who thought he was getting away with something by skimming off some of the offerings for personal use (John 12:6).  Even lesser sins make our armor porous and leave us vulnerable to defeat.

We must understand how even a "small" sin can harden our hearts to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.  As we are praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, we should also be praying Psalm 139:23-24 as we petition the Lord.  As we let the Lord deal with those "little things" in our hearts that have crowded, cluttered, and distracted us, we begin to have clarity. 
Many of our churches have been flirting with the world under the guise of drawing others in.  Instead of new believers being "converted", congregations have become "infected", so that there is little distinction between the church and the world.  Thank God that He does have a church after His own heart, far fewer in number than the church roster, but sincere and obedient! Thank God many of these gather in local Bible studies like Manorwood!

Remembering the persecuted church should always be a call for personal and corporate repentance.  Offering prayer support for those enduring these hardships allow all of us to be able to withstand the sifting process and do so in a position of authority over the enemy and yielded to the Lord.  Then, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).  We want our prayers to be heard.  But Scripture plainly teaches that if we harbor iniquity in our hearts (this can even be something like resentment or unresolved anger), the Lord will NOT hear us (Isaiah 59:1-2).  It would be a tragedy that prayers for our suffering siblings in Christ are not heard because of our own lukewarmness and worldliness.  
Let us examine our hearts and make ourselves ready so that Jesus comes back to a church that is without spot or blemish!
Deborah Claypool

Prayer:  Lord, thank God, that in a bloody, warring world, You give the Kingdom of heaven not to the powerful but to the persecuted, 
comfort not to those wielding control but to those weeping grief, 
the whole earth not to the heavyweights but to the humble, 
a vision of heaven not to the popular in strength but to the pure in heart,
and You give satisfaction not to those who hunger & thirst for *more*, 
but those who hunger and thirst for *justice.*
*Please, Lord,* Bless & be with the persecuted tonight.
Bless & be with the crying, the humble, the pure in heart, the children,
those who hunger & thirst for You — and, one way or another, that is all of us,
all this desperate world.
In the name of Jesus, the only One who has loved us to death
and back to real & forever life again,

Ann Voscamp 


Monday, August 4, 2014

He Is There

My children were ages 3, 1 and 3 months in the womb when I suddenly found myself as a single parent. I had a strong support system in the form of my family, but I knew I would need a partner “on the scene” and in my home as I raised my children. Blessedly, I knew who that Partner with a capital “P” needed to be. In Psalm 68:5 God promises to be a Father to the fatherless and I have held him to that promise and asked him to be the Father in my home these past 19 years.

I wanted to be faithful to God in raising my kids, and early on I read a book about speaking a blessing over your children each night as they went to bed. I chose the blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Every night I would put my hand on three sweet little heads and speak this blessing from the Lord over their lives. Lest you get the wrong impression, this was not always a sacred moment with a choir of angels singing back-up. There were tired days when I zipped through the blessing, and frustration-laced days when my hand was a bit more firmly placed on top of one of their precious heads. Sometimes they used the blessing as a stall tactic, asking for a repeat of the words like a child will ask for one more drink of water to delay the day’s end.  

Time has passed and my children go to bed long after me these days, so the blessings at bedtime have ceased. The ritual is a sweet memory, one I pray my children cherish the way I do whenever they hear that familiar passage.

My daughter graduated from college this past month. Milestones such as these can be hard for a single parent. Your heart longs for someone to share the special moments with. I was at the Baccalaureate service, which was a beautiful time of worship held in the Susquehanna chapel. Students were there in their caps and gowns, listening to a pre-commencement challenge by the minister at the University. The service was nearing its end when I looked at a couple standing in front of me. They gazed into each other’s eyes and you could see the united pride they felt over this wonderful child they had raised together. My heart ached a bit.

But then the minister opened his mouth to say his final words. He began, “The Lord bless you and keep you” and he continued on with the familiar blessing. I felt the warm arms of my faithful life Partner surround me. His presence was so strong, I felt I could reach out and touch Him. God and I were able to celebrate together this precious daughter he had let me borrow for just a moment of her eternity. Tears filled my eyes, as they do now remembering the way my Father in Heaven loves me. Our God is so real, so present, and so personal.

God truly sees each life, each need, each celebration and each heartache. It is just one of the many reasons I will worship him every day of this life and long for the day when I can tell him I love Him...face to Glorious Face.  

Jeremiah 29:12-13 "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Cyndi Word



Monday, July 28, 2014

When You Feel A Nudge...

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people….                Galatians 6:9-10
I just got back from a really fun camping trip in my home state, New York.  When I realized our campsite would be near the Erie Canal, I thought it would be fun to ride bikes along the tow path.  I searched online for the best place to start, but couldn’t find anything that told where the path started.  On a map, I saw a state park and figured we’d find the path once we arrived. 
Arriving at the park, the attendant pointed out the canal.  I was excited to start riding and was filled with awe, thinking of the manpower that went into digging the canals.  We rode over to the Visitor’s Center, but it was closed.  We asked a few people if they knew where the path started, but they were visitors themselves.  We asked a runner and then the lock master.  No one knew anything.  I was beginning to get irritated now.  Didn’t these people realize what a gem they had?  How could they not know?  I asked more people with no results. I could feel my mood taking a nose dive, and I know it was apparent in the tone of my voice.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m not the role model of patience Jesus wants me to be.  I started feeling a nudge saying, “You’re getting ugly.”  It was quiet at first.  Then, tap, tap, tap. “You’re getting ugly.” Then another, Tap, Tap, Tap.  “You’re getting ugly.” 
By the time the Holy Spirit made me fully aware of it, I felt as though it was a shout in my head.  I saw myself from the outside, what I probably looked and sounded like to those people who were trying to help us.  They were all really nice; they just didn’t know where the tow path started.  I had about 3 minutes with each of these strangers, and I certainly wasn’t being Jesus to them in my sour mood.  I felt ashamed about the way I had responded to the situation and embarrassed by my behavior.  I was being “treacherous without excuse” and was being “put to shame.” (Psalm 25:3)
Luckily, I was able to turn my disappointment around and was grateful to be there, even if it wasn’t the exact location I had intended.  I remembered that God calls me to never tire or become weary of doing good and to be thankful in all situations.  I was reminded of how our words and attitudes can infect someone or lift them up. I thanked the Holy Spirit for keeping me in check and asked forgiveness for taking so long to respond.
We never did ride our bikes on the tow path.  The rest of the day was spent exploring cute towns along the canal and finding a beautiful waterfall on the Mohawk River with a yummy ice cream stand overlooking it.  In the future, I hope I’ll respond to that nudge the first time it knocks!
Let’s pray together….
Father, thank you for the incomparably great power you gave to us, the power which is like the working of your mighty strength (Ephesians 1:19) Without it, I can’t be the woman you created me to be. In my humanness, I want to complain and whine when I don’t get my way.  Forgive me for my bad attitude and for forgetting that Jesus paid a high price for the gift of this power.  Help me recognize and respond to the nudge of the Holy Spirit, and help me to remember to be Jesus to those I meet every day. 
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Ephesians 4:29
Mary Beth Foster