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

 

  

Monday, September 8, 2014

How Great the Father's Love For Us...


1 John 3:1:  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
That is the first verse that Cindy Bultema will ask us to memorize as we begin Red Hot Faith. And I can hear the groans from this place behind my keyboard. I get it; memorizing isn't one of those things we love to do and most of us feel ill-equipped to do it. But it was an exercise that was good enough for Jesus, so shouldn't we at least give it a shot?

I printed out the 1 John verse on a little 3x5 card and put it on my bathroom counter. I began to read it over and over as I brushed my teeth and put on my makeup. I was intent on memorizing it by saturating my brain with it when it struck me that it wasn't just my brain but my heart and soul that needed to be saturated with this beautiful verse.  It wouldn't benefit my relationship with God in the least if I could just recite that verse like a robot. No, I needed to let God's word do what it is intended to do.
Hebrews 4:12:   “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

So I asked God to speak to me through this verse. I asked him to help me to truly see what He wanted me to learn about Him through this tiny section of scripture. God immediately reminded me of an experience I recently had at Target. This is one of the many things I adore about our Lord; he uses the everyday to show us glimpses of Himself.
I was waiting to check out at Target a few months ago and I had picked a time of day when everyone else in the Germantown area needed milk, a combination lock and motor oil. Standing in the line next to me was a husband, wife, and their baby who was in a car seat that had been placed in the shopping cart. The shade protector was pulled forward on the car seat and the father had his head inside the fabric and was talking to his child. We were in line a long time and this daddy never stopped gushing over his child. It was the lengthiest running dialogue of baby talk that I have ever witnessed. The longer the one-sided conversation went on, the more I wanted to see the baby. I kept waiting for the dad to step back so I could see the little one that had generated such love in his father.

The line moved a bit and then it happened. The dad pulled his head out of the cover of the car seat and I was finally able to see inside. Do you know what I saw? A baby. Not the most beautiful baby, not a baby with the loveliest hair or eyes, not a baby with the biggest smile. To me, he was just an average baby.
But not to his father. The father of this blessed little baby was enraptured. This was his child and the love he felt was what compelled him to talk baby-talk for an extended period of time in a check-out line at Target. It wasn't just love for a child I witnessed; it was love being lavishly given.

I'm so grateful that God used this moment at Target to help me understand our first memory verse. Somewhere, someone needs to hear this today. God loves you. He loves you generously, extravagantly, LAVISHLY. He loves you because he is your perfect and adoring Father. He delights over you on your good days and your bad days.  You are not, for even one moment, average to him. You are a child of the most high God. And he is crazy about you.
1 John 3:1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Now, isn't that verse worth memorizing?


 

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