Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Secret of the Happy Christian

Believers, if you would have an increase of happiness in Christ’s service, labor every year to grow in grace. Beware of standing still. The holiest men are always the happiest. Let your aim be every year to be more holy–to know more, to feel more, to see more of the fullness of Christ. Do not rest on old grace: do not be content with the degree of Christianity which you have attained. Search the Scriptures more earnestly; pray more fervently; hate sin more; mortify self-will more; become more humble the nearer you draw to your end; seek more direct personal communion with the Lord Jesus; strive to be more like Enoch– daily walking with God; keep your conscience clear of little sins; grieve not the Spirit; avoid arguments and disputes about the lesser matters of religion: lay more firm hold upon those great truths, without which no man can be saved. Remember and practice these things, and you will be more happy.

~ J.C. Ryle

Practical Religion, “Happiness”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 259.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Practicing Hospitality (Part 2)

By Lori H.

When I was growing up, there was a family who had a New Year’s Eve party every year. Their home was open to everyone – even the kids. It was wonderful! It is one of my favorite memories. It made me feel special and gave us something to look forward to, so we have done the same thing. Every year we have a New Year’s Eve party – everyone is included, even the kids – especially the kids! It is always fun and laid back. I want everyone to feel at home and welcome. I want to create those memories for my children and their friends. I want people to feel at home in my home. Mi casa es su casa. I love that saying: my house is your house. Seriously, ladies, put it on your calendars: New Year’s Eve party at our home. Bring an appetizer or dessert to share, 7 pm to whenever. Bring the whole family, especially the kids.

Here’s another example: I went home with a friend once to help her with her children on the trip. I will never forget how welcome her parents made me feel. Her mom had made us these little welcome baskets filled with lotion, candy, and goodies and placed them on our beds. What an impression that made on me! What an example! Little details like that showed us we were loved, thought of, and prepared for.

Another friend in Northwest Arkansas always opens her home when we need a place to stay. It is usually for a soccer tournament or a Razorback game, but she opens her home up to my whole family – all 8 of us! She cooks for us and includes us in whatever is going on in their lives. She makes us snacks to take to the field, takes time with my children, and loves each of us separately and as a whole. What an example of hospitality she is to me!

Listen to Romans 12:13 : “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” This is a mark of the true Christian.

Did you know that hospitality is required in ministers and elders?

I Timothy 3:2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober minded, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

And again in Titus 1:8: “but hospitable, a lover of good, self controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.

Even in widows it is required: (I Timothy 5:10)And having a reputation for good works, if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.

Ladies, we can do this. Make hospitality a part of your life. Be known for it. Don’t wait until you have time, money, or a beautiful home. Invite them in. Be kind to strangers, guests, friends, and family. Love them as Jesus would.

When we were first married, we lived in a trailer. It was not big, but we had people in. We sat on the floor when we ran out of seats. We shared what we had. I wanted to be like my mom, like these other women I had watched all my life. Now my home is a bit bigger, but my life is a whole lot crazier, and my house is really never clean. I have 6 kids. Our schedules are crazy. I have to make it a priority to invite folks over. I may have to make a few phone calls and ask for rides to and from practices for kids, because it is important to open my home to others. Let people see that they are important and you are not too busy for them.

Get your kids involved in this (What a great training opportunity!). Teach them to clean, cook and serve. Get your husbands involved. If you are single, ask another friend or two to join you. But love on others, have them in your homes, and make them feel special, loved, and important. Be a vessel for Jesus’ love.

There are several friends who I know make it a point to have a meal in their home a couple of times a month and invite folks they don’t know very well. What an example this is to me; what a ministry to others; what a way to build relationships!

Here are a few excerpts from the book Silent Witness by Georg Andersen:

“No matter what the size of one’s home, it can and should be a welcoming place. Whether a cottage or a mansion, if loving hearts live there, it will show in the family pictures, the old loved books, and the bits and pieces of treasures accumulated through the years….” Ruth Graham (p. xi)

“It has been often said that ‘home is where the heart is.’ Perhaps the better statement is that ‘home reveals where the heart is.’”…. Steve Schall (p. xi)

“Hospitality – eagerly sharing the resources of my home to benefit others” (p.69)

“Nevertheless, these physical components and the thoughts behind them say a lot about the occupants and their activities. Naturally, our homes don’t speak with words per se, but they subtly reveal so much: interests and priorities…the place God has in our lives…our concerns for others…the value that we put on our families…how we spend our time. Thus, our homes become ‘silent witnesses’ to the multifaceted work of God in our lives. St. Francis of Assisi succinctly immortalized this concept: ‘Preach the gospel everywhere; when necessary, use words.’ Words of silent witness are vitally important, for they affect – by either helping or hindering – our work and influence for the Lord.” (p.4)

“Hospitality has a worthy ally in Gentleness. Gentleness is the display of tender care and concern in reaching out to others. What distinguishes a house from a home? All houses have walls and floors, but Gentleness sparks a nurturing and warm atmosphere. Who doesn’t want to come to a home that provides a comfortable refuge?” (p.75)

Let’s practice hospitality, ladies.

Be known as having an open home to friends, families, and even strangers. Hebrew 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Love people where they are. Love the tired mama of little children who needs some adult conversation; love on the lonely; love on the crazy mom of 6 (Me!); love on the newlyweds, the college students, the youth, the guests, the singles, the older couples…everyone needs it.

Be the vessel God uses to encourage someone else and I promise you this: as you pour yourselves into others, you will find that you are the one encouraged, loved, and blessed.

God commands us to be hospitable.

Are you practicing hospitality?

See you on New Years Eve!!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Practicing Hospitality (Part 1)

By Lori H.

Let me start off with a question: “Are you practicing hospitality?”

Webster defines hospitality as “generous and kindly treatment of guests.”

We live in the south, ladies – so it should be easy for us, right? We are known for southern hospitality. Do we treat guests and even strangers kindly? We (well, most of us) talk with a slow southern drawl and can say “bless her heart” about everything, but are we truly being hospitable?

I love parties. I love the planning. I love the chaos. I love the preparation. I love working with others. I love the relationships I have made serving with others. You really get to know someone when you work with them. And most of the time I even enjoy the stress of trying to get it all done. My motto is “what really has to get done will get done.” I love making things special for others. This is just how God wired me and I know we are not all wired the same way.

But the question is, “What does God think about hospitality?” The Bible is full of examples of hospitality – with feasts and celebrations, with entertaining strangers, and with taking care of the needs of others. But did you know that hospitality is commanded?

I Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Wow, that is pretty straight forward! We are to be stewards of God’s grace, and we are not to complain while doing it.

As a young girl, I watched my mom open our house up over the years to friends, family, missionaries, pastors, and even strangers. She would invite people visiting the church over, and share a meal with them. She would include them as a part of our family. People were always at our house, because she made them feel welcome. I had a wonderful example to watch, to train me, and to emulate. Even when she made mistakes and forgot to turn on the oven, made egg drop ice cream, or burned something, people felt included and a part of the family, and laughed with us. Seriously though, most of the time things ran smoothly and that is because she planned well and always had something ready. As kids, she would always let our friends come over. I thought it was cool and wonderful (and it was), but now I see it was also a tool she was using to get to know my friends and to make sure we were all behaving. We must have created a ton of extra work for her, but she never complained and was always welcoming. I want to be like that. I want to know my kids’ friends and for them to know they are always welcome in our home.

What is the difference between hospitality and entertaining? I read this on a blog and it is so true: “when you entertain, you bring honor and glory to yourself… Showing hospitality brings honor and glory to God.” Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t so much about what you do but about your heart attitude behind it. You can host a lovely dinner that is planned down to the last detail or you can throw something together at the last minute. Either one will work. Just be sure your focus is on bringing glory to God through honoring your guests. Make them feel at home and a part of your family.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Gift of Gifts

The following prayer is called "The Gift of Gifts" and is from The Valley of Vision.

O Source of all Good,
What shall I render to Thee for the gift of gifts,
Thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, Proxy, Surety, Substitute,
His self-emptying incomprehensible,
His infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders:
He came below to raise me above,
He was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to Himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father,
place me with ox, donkey, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
and in Him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith,
exulting that He is mine and I am His.

In Him Thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

[Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 28-29.]

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mary's Heart of Submission

By Hannah S.

For many of us, the Christmas story is so familiar that we can sometimes forget the significance of the events that took place. We read of a young woman who was visited by an angel with news that she would bear God’s Son.

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

We cannot gloss over the impact that this announcement would have on this young girl’s life. In the matter of a moment, Mary’s life was changed forever. Her hopes, plans, and dreams were all of a sudden altered. She was to receive a gift, a gift like no other woman that has ever lived. She was going to birth God in flesh.

Before we move on, we cannot overlook that this gift would also bring hardship. Who would believe that she had not sinned? How would she deal with the rejection and isolation that comes from such a role? The thought of a “normal” Jewish life was gone. Later, as they took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised, Simeon said to Mary:

“Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed - and a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Mary’s Son was sent to be opposed. She would watch the rejection not only of the Savior but of her son. She would experience greater joy and blessing but also greater sorrow and hardship than other women. Thinking through this has made the way Mary responded incredibly precious to me this Christmas season.

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.

Mary had a heart of submission. She did not cling to her own selfish desires for a nice, easy life, but she submitted to a life of blessing and hardship. We do not know if she struggled with this blessing, if she cried out in the night, “Why me?” but we do know that she was well aware of the hardship before her. She would be misunderstood and accused of a crime that she did not commit. Her righteousness would be thought of as evil. She would watch her Son be rejected and crucified, and yet Mary submitted. Mary allowed her reputation to be marred that God might accomplish His will through her. Mary was willing to be used by God.

This heart of submission is easy to read about but hard to live. How many times in my life have I resisted a blessing because it was not in my plan? I have not had the attitude “let it be done to me according to your word.” God forbid, but I want it to be done to me according to my own word. This submission, this willingness of Mary to walk the path before her, trusting God, is a challenge to us all. Do we think of ourselves as bondslaves, at the will and use of our master, or do we demand our own will and rights?

As you see pictures of Mary this Christmas season, don’t let the tranquility of the scene allow your mind to forget what this precious young girl was embracing. As she held the Lord in her arms, she embraced God’s will for her life.

Dear ladies, as we journey through this life together, may we encourage each other to follow the path laid before us with such a heart. What is the Lord asking you to submit to? What mixture of hardships and blessings lay before you? May our hearts embrace with joyful submission the will of the Lord. May we, like Mary, say, “may it be done to me according to your word.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cape Cod Salsa

By Gail H.

We love chips and salsa just about more than anything else. When Scott and Amanda married at Christmas time, Tandy's gift to our family was making this salsa for the reception. Since that time, it has become part of our Christmas tradition. We make it for parties, friends, and family. It is great with chips or poured over cream cheese with some crackers. The red is so pretty for Christmas, and we love the taste.

The only thing that I have never been able to do is get my raisins to chop. It may be due to dull knives. I just buy small ones and put them in whole.
Cape Cod Salsa

2 cups cranberries
14 crushed tomatoes
1 cup tomato puree
3/4 chopped green pepper
3/ 4cup chopped onion
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 JalapeƱo peppers
2 TBS chopped garlic
3/4 cup raisins
Salt & pepper to taste

Process cranberries to finely chopped. Also chop onion and both peppers to diced finely. Finely chop raisins. Add remaining ingredients. Mix all together, cover, and sit at room temperature overnight. Adjust sugar, vinegar, salt & pepper to taste. Adjust the heat of salsa by adding more jalapenos or Tabasco.

Monday, December 19, 2011


By Deborah H.

When we first moved into our house eighteen years ago, we had more than a few surprises. One of the more pleasant ones was the fact that in my youngest son’s room the previous owners had stuck glow-in-the-dark constellations on the ceiling. During the day, they absorbed light so that by night there was a soft glow of stars and moon above. There was something soothing about that faint glow.

Repeatedly, in the Scriptures, God gave us commands regarding light: His light. And I can’t help believing that when others see that light in us, they find it comforting and soothing as well. Like those glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling, the light we give off is but a pale reflection of His wonderful, blinding light, but any reflection at all is a good thing.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light,” 2 Peter 2:9. He chose us, drew us out of the darkness of a sinful world, and brought us into the splendor of His glorious light. That, alone, is reason to offer up praises. But He has done so much more. He has lavished us with the riches of His grace, has provided for our needs, and has equipped us to be the means, feeble though we are in our own strength, to reach others still trapped in the darkness. We do that by reflecting His light, His love, and His holiness.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life,” Philippians 2:14-16.

You see, we’re not going to blind anyone with our light, but we are to reflect HIS light and will stand out from the darkness in doing so. He has equipped us to shine like glimmering jewels of the night, bedecking the darkness with our warm, soft glow. In a way, His people accessorize the darkness around them like diamonds accessorize any ensemble. His children make the world around them more beautiful – not because WE are so beautiful but because we are to reflect HIS beauty.

My son, Scott, is responsible for this current meditation. He allowed me (or forced me, rather) to listen to a current gospel rapper do a “song” entitled, Let There Be Light. One of the lyrics that caught my ear and has penetrated my heart was, “Glowing in the dark till the Lord return.” I’d never thought about it before, but we are to glow in the dark. That’s what we do when we reflect our Savior’s light.

Ephesians 5:8-9 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).” This verse tells us what it looks like to reflect the light of the Lord. To others, it looks like goodness. It looks like righteousness and is rooted in truth.

In my prayers, I often ask the Lord to make us salt and light in the dark world around us. That’s what I think of when I read, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” Matthew 5:14-16.

This Christmas season, my prayer is that we are not distracted by the lights and busyness and gift-buying that surround this time of year, but that we may be mesmerized by the Light of Christ. In our own imperfect ways, let us worship Him and bathe in the illumination of His Being, soaking up as much of it as we can possibly hold. Then, a little like Moses as he came down from Mt. Sinai, when we turn again to face the world, let them see in us a reflection of the One we love. May His light shine from every pore of our being – at Christmas and beyond.

“Glowing in the dark till the Lord return.” ~ Andy Mineo

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Focus

By Kim W.

"We don't want our conversations with people to center around our new car or curtains." I read this on a blog years ago and this statement resonated with me. I want my conversations to be so much deeper than this... and although there are times we must talk about getting a new car or decorating our home, it should not be the heart beat of our lives... at least I don't want it to be. I hope to be the kind of person who speaks about the Lord and what He has done. I desire to be a woman who builds relationships with others to encourage them in the Lord... to build others in the faith and to grow in my faith through others' help and teaching... to walk alongside others to learn from their wisdom and be teachable in my spirit. I would love for my speech to be seasoned with grace and used by God in other people's lives. I want to be more about learning how God is working in others' lives instead of learning about the latest decorating ideas. I love being a homemaker and I do find joy in serving in my home - preparing meals, making my home a warm and inviting place, etc. - but I pray my priority would be worshiping God with my whole heart and investing in people's lives, loving those around me. I have been convicted lately that I have not been this kind of person.

I have had such a heavy conviction on my heart that I should be more about seeking Christ right now... the moment is NOW... and it seems strange to me to be thinking about the Lord and talking about Him and then be Christmas shopping online the next minute... finding greater joy in that. Does that make sense? It seems this time of year can make me so busy doing and doing that I can easily lose sight of what really matters. We have done all the things we normally do with our children... the Christ centered Christmas activities and all... but sometimes I feel my heart is not engaged in true worship like it should be. There are so many distractions... and I have been guilty of becoming distracted.

So, at Christmas, I have been thinking through some things. We spend a lot of time on temporal things this time of year and I have to admit, I enjoy some of it. Sometimes, though, I feel as if I enjoy it too much or find joy in these earthly treasures that will pass away. I know they will pass away, but I still seem to be enticed by the sparkle and the glitter at times.

Finding joy in the things of this world is a struggle for me...and I am fighting it.

I have found some quotes to help me refocus my heart and mind on the person of Christ. These have been a great reminder to me that Christmas is about celebrating my Savior. It is a holiday celebrating His deity, His magnificence, His glory in all of creation: heaven and earth.

John MacArthur says this in Truth For Today:

This baby who was to be born would be God Himself in human form. If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these words would be "God With Us." We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth.

This one is from Joni Eareckson Tada:

On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with Him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for peace in our world.

Every Christmas is still ‘a turning of the page’ until Jesus returns. Every December 25 marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to . . . home.

When we realize that Jesus is the answer to our deepest longing, even Christmas longings, each Advent brings us closer to His glorious return to earth. When we see Him as He is, King of kings and Lord of lords, that will be ‘Christmas’ indeed!

~Joni Eareckson Tada, “A Christmas Longing” in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus ed. by Nancy Guthrie (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 137.

To live for yourself is to rob yourself of your own humanity. It is only in living for Christ that we actually begin to become what we were meant to be.

~ Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More (Greensboro, NC; New Growth Press, 2007), 100.

Another quote from John MacArthur from Truth For Today:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

Here's a side to the Christmas story that isn't often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them... Jesus was born to die. Don't think I'm trying to put a damper on Your Christmas spirit - far from it. For Jesus' death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory ever.

I pray all of us will find Christ in this Christmas. But this is not just a wishful will take effort on our part. This world fights for our attention and our own selfish, wicked hearts like it more than we should! I think I see my own wickedness at this time of year more than any other.

God, please forgive me and make my heart more like yours. Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Promises for Fears

By Karlyn M.

What are you afraid of this morning?

What is the deepest, most gut-wrenching thing you're looking at? The thing you're convinced you won't make it through? The road you're terrified to start down? The situation you think the Lord will not involve Himself with...

King Jehoshaphat was looking at a "great multitude" that was coming to wage war against the Israelites. They were close, and it looked like the slaughter of God's people was imminent.

The king appealed to God with a very courageous and humble prayer, but in the end, all he could say was, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you." God, there is nothing left that I can think of. I have no plans. I have no idea how to conquer this. I can only look to You.

Which is always the right response. The point is this: 2 Chronicles 20 says Jehoshaphat was afraid and without any idea of how he was going to survive this great crisis.

What about you? What is causing you the most fear?

Listen to what God told the king, and hear what God says now to those who love Him:

"Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at [this great horde], for the battle is not yours but God's."

Now YOU fill in the blank.

Are you afraid of your crumbling marriage? Afraid to forgive your spouse ("He'll just do it again! He always does!" [Psssttt... Yes, he will. He's a sinner. And guess what?... So will you. Why else would Jesus say "70 times 7?])

Afraid your child will never trust the Lord for salvation? Afraid of the choices you're starting to see him make?

Afraid you'll never have victory over that secret sin that no one knows about except you and God? And it's eating you up because you continue to fall and it's destroying your communion with the Lord? And you think His mercy and forgiveness has ended and you are lost?

What are you afraid of this morning?

God says: "Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at (IT!), for the battle is not yours but God's." (2 Chron. 20:15) And also: "I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isa. 41:10)

Do as Jehoshaphat did: go immediately, continuously, to the One Who does not want you to fear; tell Him you can't do anything (because you can't); and look to Him only. In Him alone is your victory in what you're fearing most. Obey what He's commanded you to do, and then rest as He conquers.

Originally posted on Karlyn's blog, A Journey of Joy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Family Traditions - Making Meaningful Memories (Part 2)

(Editor's Note: I'm SO SORRY! I meant to post this yesterday and I just plain forgot. Oops! Better late than never, right? I was just trying to build the anticipation. )

By Kim M.

Years ago, my friend Libby and I gave a talk at Ozark Conference Center called “Traditions – Tried, True, and New.” We compiled a list from many of our friends on “Everyday and Special Day” family traditions. I have continued to add to this list and want to share it with you to jump start your thinking. Some of the traditions incorporate spiritual truths, some foster family togetherness, and some are just for plain ole family fun and memory making times. Click on the link below to see the list:

Traditions – Tried, True and New

Monday, December 5, 2011

Family Traditions – Making Meaningful Memories (Part 1)

By Kim M.

Think back to when you were a little girl. What do you remember most about the holiday season? How many specific gifts can you really remember? I remember one gift in particular...I was about 12. It was a bicycle: purple bike, banana seat, tall, curvy handlebars with the sparkly things from the handlebars – a very cool bike. But what I remember most was that mom and dad had hidden the bikes from my sister and me. After all the other presents were opened, mom and dad made up some excuse for Kathy and me to go into our utility room, and there we got the joy of discovering our fashionable, sparkly new bikes. You know, I don’t remember one other present from that Christmas. But it was the way my parents planned for us to discover the gifts and the surprise that had the lasting effect. It is the memories we make with family and the times that we spend together that are what truly have a lasting effect on us.

As we move into what usually proves to be one of the busiest seasons of the year, it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy that comes with shopping, wrapping, baking, hosting, and decorating. Sometimes we can become so busy that we lose the meaning and people in the midst of the all the activity. I want to slow down the pace long enough to challenge us to think about how this season can be different. How can we as women be deliberate and purposeful in our planning so that we can make meaningful memories for our family; memories that promote family togetherness and other-centered service; memories that point us to the faithfulness of our God? How can we use family traditions to facilitate these memories, not just during the holidays, but everyday?

Noel Piper in her book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions, gives us three definitions of traditions:

  • A tradition is a planned habit with significance.
  • A tradition is the handing down of information, beliefs, or worldview from one generation to another by word of mouth and by regular repetition of example, of ceremony, of celebration.
  • For a Christian, tradition is laying up God’s words in our own hearts and passing His words to the next generation.

Traditions are one generation declaring to the next the faithfulness and the
wondrous works of the Lord. Recently, I was reading a book by where the author refers to family traditions as “we always.” I love that phrase! “We always” do breakfast in bed on birthdays. “We always” have a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” cake for Christmas dinner dessert. “We always” bake together as a family at Christmas. When your kids think back someday on your family, what will they remember fondly as the “we always?" Let’s focus on two categories where we can practice traditions or our “we always” with purpose in our families through what I call “Everyday traditions” and “Special Day Traditions.”

First, let’s consider “Everyday traditions.” You are all familiar with Deuteronomy 6: 5-7 where we are instructed to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might and then to have these words on our heart and to teach them diligently to our children and talk of them when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up. Have you ever thought about the fact that your daily habits and routines can become, as Noel Piper defines it, “a habit with significance” where you can carry out the commands of Deuteronomy 6?

Noel challenges us in her book to think through our daily walking, rising, talking, and going to bed times, and ask the Lord to show us how we can establish habits or traditions with meaning. How can our daily traditions pass on and proclaim God’s Word and faithfulness from one generation to the next?

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
  • setting the example by having a regular quiet time (Will your family be able to say “we always” knew mom was having her quiet time and praying for us?)
  • family devotions
  • family nights
  • meal times together
  • tucking them in times
  • date night with daddy
  • having special family recipes or meals
  • travel time habits – “We always” pray in the car before a trip. Maybe it is singing hymns as you travel? When I was little, “we always” counted windmills as we traveled to south Texas, knowing the more we saw, the closer we were to MamMa and Grandpa’s house.
  • bath time – a reminder of how God washes our sins away
  • making Sunday special (Karen Mains has a book by that title with helps)
  • read aloud time
  • praying together
  • keeping a family journal or scrapbook
Let Deuteronomy 6 transform your everyday habits and routines so that they take on a totally new meaning for you. Ask God to give you His vision for family. Think about the things you do every day that can be a tradition with meaning to foster the blessing of family and to point your family to God.

God also established “Special Day” traditions. Think about the ordinance of the Passover Feast for the Israelites in Exodus 12:42. It is a night to be observed for the LORD for having brought them out from the land of Egypt. This night is for the LORD, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations. He also established the Feast of the Unleavened Bread: “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance,” (Exodus 12:14). Besides the everyday remembrances, God gave special days for remembering.

Noel Piper shares a story in her book where a college friend had heard once too often, somebody pontificating that, “Every day should be Mother’s Day,” or “Every day should be as significant as Christmas.” Finally, the student exclaimed, “No! All days are NOT the same! God knows we need ‘especially.’” Noel says, “God appointed special days, such as the Passover, for His people and gave them ceremonies to set those days off from the others. The ceremony of a special day keeps it from slipping away like an ordinary day. We stop and recognize the specialness of an event in large part because of the traditions in which it’s wrapped… our ‘especially’ celebrations anchor us and our children in the harbor of our family, reflecting our true refuge: God.”

I suggest that you sit down with a calendar and think through the year and the holidays and special days that your family celebrates. Choose times that your family will celebrate and consider how you can add special meaning to these special days in your family. Hear me say this: I do NOT want you to feel guilty or to think of this as one more thing to add to your already-too-long “to do” list. It may be that the best thing you can do to make holidays more meaningful in your home is to simplify! Sometimes we need to “do more… better” and sometimes we need to “do less… better.”

Tomorrow: A list of practical ideas to jump start your thinking

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Heart of a Martyr

By Kim W.

Betty Scott was the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary couple in China. As a ten year old girl, she penned this heartfelt poem about her love for Jesus. Years later, Betty and her husband, John Stam, were serving as missionaries in China, attempting to take the gospel to unsaved people there. The Stams, as well as their 3 month old daughter, Helen Priscilla, fell into the hands of cruel Communists soldiers. These soldiers wanted to make an example of John and Betty Stam, and that is exactly what happened. They were beheaded in Miaosheo on December 8, 1934. Little Helen survived and was raised by her granparents and later adopted by an aunt and uncle.

This poem shows young Betty Stam's utter dependence on God, and perhaps it also shows how God was preparing her heart to give her life for the sake of the gospel. But it is not her faith that we are in awe is the object of her faith, Jesus Christ, that allowed her to endure such suffering of the flesh.

Persecution which results in death is the worst thing that can happen to a believer, but it is also the best thing. After this earthly life, we will be surrounded by God's glory and free from all of sin's effects and influences. Praise be to God!


I cannot live like Jesus,
Example though He be–
For He was strong and selfless,
And I am tied to ME.
I cannot live like Jesus;
My soul is never free;
My will is strong and stubborn;
My love is weak and wee.

I cannot look like Jesus–
More beautiful is He
In soul and eye and stature,
Than sunrise on the sea.
Behold His warm, His tangible,
His dear humanity!
Behold His white perfection
Of purest deity!

~ Elizabeth Alden Scott Stam, THE FAITH OF BETTY SCOTT STAM IN POEM AND VERSE. Arranged by her parents, Clara and Charles E. Scott. Philadelphia: China Inland Mission, 1938, p. 50.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Suffering in the Flesh and God's AMAZING Grace

By Kim W.

If anyone is familiar with pain, it is Paul...He chose suffering over silence. He was bold in proclaiming the gospel of Christ because his life had been changed from the inside out. He knew God and wanted others to know the love of God deeply.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul was heartbroken. He felt betrayed. He loved the church at Corinth so much, but they were following false teachers and believing lies about Paul. He felt deep, profound pain over this. Isn't it true that those we are the closest to can cause the deepest pain, especially in the area of betrayal? Paul, also, was suffering from a thorn in his flesh and he begged God for relief three times in this passage.

So, here is Paul... experiencing deep hurts of suffering for doing what was right, feeling betrayed by a group of people that he dearly loved, and suffering with physical pain with no relief in sight. These are deeply painful life experiences.

When dealing with those we love who are profoundly hurting, who have experienced some of life's hardest trials, who have been hurt by serious and painful betrayals, we certainly need more than a shallow response. We certainly need to show love and patience with them while expressing words of comfort and help. The wonderful news is that God dealt with Paul's hurts with a deep, profound response...a life-changing response. He said, "My grace is sufficient." Wow - what a statement.

John 1:14 says that Jesus was ''full of grace." He was incarnate God--God in the flesh, so He had all the characteristics of God as a man. He was full of grace, but that is not all. John 1:16 tells us that "from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace."

We have all the grace needed:

1) to believe in the first place

2) to put away sin and put on the righteousness of Christ

3) to obey God's understand it and apply it to our lives

4) to effectively serve Him

5) to worship Him in spirit and in truth

6) to triumph over habitual sin of the past

7) to resist any temptation

8) to endure every kind of suffering, pain, disappointment, and sorrow

It is amazing grace, isn't it?

When Paul asked three times for relief from the thorn, God answered. But not by taking the pain away, because the pain was productive. He didn't remove the trouble, because the trouble was also helpful in Paul's life. He said,"My grace is sufficient." God is going to increase the grace for Paul, so that he can endure. He does that same for us. He gives us His wonderful, amazing grace, so that we may endure.

The word sufficient simply means "it is enough." God's grace is enough for anything that happens in this life.

When we suffer for doing what is right, God is putting His grace on display. A world is watching. As we endure, by God's grace, people will see the greatness of our God and the strength that He gives us. He receives all the glory and we are better off because of the suffering.

J.C. Ryle says this about suffering:

Affliction is one of God's medicines. By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world, which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater one. Prosperity and worldly comfort are what all naturally desire, but losses and crosses are far better for us, if they lead us to Christ. Thousands at the last day will testify with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." (Psalm 119:71)

If God is Good by Randy Alcorn
"How God uses Suffering" (Part 1 and 2) by John MacArthur
Commentary on 1st Peter and 2nd Corinthians- John MacArthur

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Quotes

How worthy it is to remember former benefits when we come to beg for new. ~Stephen Charnock

We should spend as much time in thanking God for his benefits as we do in asking him for them. ~ Vincent de Paul

Prayer without thanksgiving is like a bird without wings. ~ William Hendriksen

Thanksgiving is good but thanks-living is better. ~ Matthew Henry

Thankless men are like swine feeding on acorns, which, though they fall upon their heads, never make them look up to the tree from which they come. ~ Jean Daille

I fear that what will surprise us most, when we see our Lord, will be the extent of our own ingratitude. ~ E. B. Pusey

It must make the devils themselves marvel to see us able to receive a pardon and a title to everlasting glory with scarcely more than a few cold syllables of gratitude to God. ~ Maurice Roberts

Ingratitude is not only the basest and meanest of sins, but it is the most frequent. ~ Wilton Merle Smith

It is sad when there is nothing for which we feel grateful to God, but it is serious when there is something and we fail to show gratitude, and it is tragic when we are so busy asking for more that we forget to thank him for what we have received. ~ William Still, from The Complete Gathered Gold

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dover, Denver (or Truth is NOT Relative)

By Jennifer R.

When I was in the fourth grade, we had to memorize the states and capitals. As my dad was quizzing me over the material, he asked me what state’s capital was Dover.

“Denver,” I confidently stated.

“No, Denver is the capital of Colorado. Dover is the capital of Delaware,” he corrected.

For the next several hours, days, and maybe even weeks, there was a fierce debate that would become part of our family folklore.

Clearly, either my teacher had transcribed the information incorrectly on the blackboard or I had transcribed it incorrectly on my paper. (My guess is that the fault was mine since I don’t remember anyone else making the same mistake.) However, try as he might, my dad could not convince me that I was wrong.

He offered to look up the information in an atlas and show it to me. Nope, I wouldn’t be convinced. (What? Did I think he would modify the atlas just for the purpose of misleading me?) He offered to call the airlines and ask them if he could fly to Dover, Denver to prove my error. Nope. (Because clearly the airlines were in cahoots with this conspiracy to make me fail fourth grade geography?) I can’t explain my irrational dogmatic belief that I was right and everyone else was wrong. And I don’t remember how I was finally convinced that I was wrong, but eventually I did learn that Dover is the capital of DELAWARE, not Denver. (And I’ll never forget it, thank you very much.)

My point in telling this story is that there was an absolute truth: Dover was the capital of Delaware and Denver was the capital of Colorado, no matter what I believed about those cities. In this day of relativism, people are prone to say that truth is relative. They say that something may be true “for you” but not true “for them.” (I wonder what the capital of Delaware is for those people?) However, truth is truth. If something is true, it is not dependent on whether you believe it or not. I could forever believe that Dover was the capital of Denver. It wouldn’t make it true.

The way to find out truth is to check a reliable source. For states and capitals, an atlas would be a good example of a reliable source. For life and godliness, the Bible is our infallible source. If God says it, you can believe it because He cannot lie. The Bible may not hold the answer to your every question (the capital of Kansas, for example), but the answers it does hold are 100% reliable.

Let us all resolve to read and study the Word of God more than ever so we can tap into this “information source” and learn real, absolute TRUTH.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
(John 8:31-32, NKJV)

Re-posted from Jennifer's blog, Reflections.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Joy of Journaling

By Hannah S.

When you think of journaling, you may think of writing class or a diary from your younger days. But as I have renewed this discipline in my life, I have found such joy in recording and reflecting on the way God is working in my life.

I can hear the groans as many of you think of journaling as one more item to add to an already busy to-do list. But let me assure you the spiritual discipline of journaling has made my time with the Lord more effective.

First let me clear up some of the misconceptions that I had about journaling. It is often referred to as a spiritual discipline and thus I struggled if I did not journal every day. The burden of adding this to my quiet time was too much for me to handle. I found myself wrongly feeling guilty if I wasn’t making an entry every day. I do think this is a spiritual discipline, but it is not on the level of prayer, reading Scripture, or meditating on God’s word. My journal has actually become a tool that has helped me with these other disciplines, but it is not something that I do every day. There have been seasons of life that my entries are very few. Yet I am so thankful for those entries that capture a snapshot of what the Lord was teaching me.

Now let me move to the benefits of keeping a spiritual journal:

1. Journaling helps me meditate on Scripture.
I began to journal as a way to meditate on Scripture. I had found myself reading Scripture in the morning, and then by early afternoon having a hard time recalling what I had read. So I began to do my Scripture reading with my pen in hand ready to record and reflect on passages from God’s word. I can’t tell you what joy this has brought to my spiritual life! Not only was I thinking deeply about the passages that I was recording but I was also applying them to my own life and circumstances. I was truly meditating on God’s Word as I would make an entry in my journal. Sometimes I would write the passage in my own words. At other times I would record questions that I had about a certain passage. Other times I would use the words of Scripture to cry out to the Lord. There is something about writing and mulling over a passage that helps me to slow down and absorb the truth.

2. Journaling helps with self evaluation.
I found that as I have journaled about events and happenings in my life that I have begun to see patterns of sin that reappear in certain situations. Not only has this helped me to have a plan of resistance in times that I am particularly vulnerable, but it often reveals the idol that is at the root of my sin. As I have expressed my feelings in writing, I can often see the error in my thinking and more clearly see what sins need to be “put off” in my life. When I have taken emotions and thought about what is causing me to feel a certain way, it has helped me to see the root of sin in my life. Journaling has caused me to delve deeply into what my emotions are revealing about my thinking.

3. Journaling helps me control my tongue.
I know that this may sound odd, but hang with me and I will try to explain. The way that I often process information is by talking. As I am talking through my thoughts, I can often see a clearer picture of what needs to be done or what my response should be to a specific situation. This is not how everyone is wired, but I have found true in my life the old saying, “thoughts disentangle themselves when passed through the lips and across the fingertips.” The trouble with processing information in such a manner is that it can often lead to gossip. As I am working through things by talking, I am bringing in someone who is not part of the problem or part of the solution. There are many things and struggles in our lives that do not need to be shared with other people. We need to take these struggles straight to the Lord and not bring others in on the situation. Being able to write about these issues in my life has made my journal a great sounding board. It is a place where I can express what I am really thinking and then discern what is true and what is not. These entries most often turn into prayers of confession and a cry to the Lord to change my heart. Let your journal be the place that you “disentangle your thoughts” and flee from the sin of gossip!

4. Journaling leaves a spiritual heritage.
One of my favorite books is called Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. One of the reasons that I like this book is because over the pages you see the ups and downs of the main character’s Christian life. It is refreshing to see her weaknesses as well as the victories in her life. As I reflected over the years of this lady’s life I could see progress that brought me encouragement. I pray that someday when one of my daughters or grand children pick up one of my journals that they might be encouraged to see the real struggle of a believer who was battling sin in everyday life. I pray that they will identify with my weaknesses and have hope that God does transform us into His image. At times when progress seems slow, it has been a joy to look back and see how the Lord has grown me in my thinking. A journal gives you a tangible way to see growth in your life.

5. Journaling is a great way to reflect on the goodness of God in my life.
Not only do I record my struggles in my journal but also the blessings from the Lord. Aren’t we all so quick to forget how the Lord has provided for us? We are just like the Israelites as they grumbled their way through the desert. They were caught up in the moment and forgot what great things the Lord had done for them. By recording and reviewing the details of blessings in my life, it has reminded me of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life. Like the people of the Old Testament set up monuments to the Lord to remember God’s great work in their lives, let your journal be a monument to the way the Lord has provided and cared for you.

I pray that these few thoughts will give you a renewed passion for the discipline of journaling. There is no right or wrong way to journal – make it your own. It is a tool to be used to assist you in your Christian walk, and I pray that you will find joy as you reflect on the goodness of God to mold you into His image.

Click here for a list of journal prompts to help you get started.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 4

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. This is the last of a 4-part series. Click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

In one of Pastor Quinn's sermons, he touched upon gossip. It was one of the most practical ones I'd ever heard. Basically - and this is my paraphrase - he explained how a simple statement of fact can turn into a question which can turn into a judgment. I'll give an example. It has to be a ridiculous one, so that I don't inadvertently tread on any toes!

Let's say a friend has decided to have her house painted blue with red polka dots. Another friend says to you, "Hey, so-and-so has had her house painted blue with red polka dots." Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s an innocuous statement. Here's where it can begin to be gossip. You say, "Gosh - why would she choose those colors?" Still not too bad, but heading downhill. Your friend replies, "Yes, I'd never do that." Uh oh! Now, one of you has decided to judge so-and-so. It would be very easy for the conversation to degenerate into gossip after that, because you'd both be discussing so-and-so's poor choice of house color and feeling smug, because you would never, ever in a million years do such a thing! Do you see how insidious it is? We have to nip it in the bud, and one of the ways to do that is to be slow to speak.

A few weeks ago, Philip De Courcy preached an excellent sermon on the sin of worrying. One very striking way to exacerbate our sin of anxiety is to continually express our worries to others. Sometimes, it's way easier to speak to other humans about it, rather than take it to the One who can give us the strength to endure any trial. I have done this over the years. Kenny would say to me, "Linda, every time you speak about a particular fear or worry, the stronger it becomes in your mind and emotions. You need to stop speaking about it so much, and once you have taken it to the Lord, leave it be." You know, it pays to listen to our husbands. They can sometimes offer excellent advice! Who knew?

The bottom line is that we who have the honor of calling ourselves by the name Christian should "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called" (Ephesians 4:1). There should be a definite difference between the world and us. We should be first listeners and then speakers. We should think before we speak. We should remember that "the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart" (Matthew 15:18). We already know from Jeremiah 17:9 that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" I said earlier that God gives us the means to change our hearts and set our minds on Him. We ask Him. He's the One who puts in us the desire to change. Then he gives us the tools: His Word, which, as Hebrews 4:12 informs us, is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Psalm 119:11 tells us that memorizing God's word will help us keep our minds on Him and turn away from sin: "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could say with David in Psalm 17:3, (without expecting a bolt of lightning to strike us from the sky for our audacity), "You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress"?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 3

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. This is part 3 in a 4-part series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Now, you can't discuss listening attentively without addressing being slow to speak. The two go hand in hand.

The Bible is repleteLink with injunctions to think before we speak.
  • Psalm 141:3
- Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
  • Proverbs 18:7
- A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
  • Proverbs 10:19 - When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, 
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
  • Proverbs 21:23
- He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.
and one of my favorites:
  • Proverbs 17:28
- Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.

There are many, many more. Since God found it necessary to instruct us regarding the use of our tongue, it's obviously a problem. He doesn't leave us without the means of rectifying it, though (at least as much as we can on our earthly pilgrimage). All we have to do is ask Him. David implores the Lord in Psalm 51: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 19:14 says, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer." Second Corinthians 10:4-5 remind us that it's not only our own sinful flesh we're fighting but a mighty adversary: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

So, knowing all of the above, why do Christians speak so much? And it's not just a female problem! Men can be just as loquacious! Many of us speak to fill what we perceive as an awkward silence. Sometimes nervousness can cause excessive chatter. However, I think one of the main reasons for speaking too much and not listening to others is pride. We simply think that what we have to say is more important than what anyone else is saying. If we're in a group setting, we grow irritated if we don't have the opportunity to express our opinion on something. That is the source for a lot of interruptions. The desire to be heard over-rides any consideration of common courtesy.

We live in a very "touchy-feely" society - one in which we're all encouraged to express ourselves and emote! A product of that kind of environment is conversations with way too many personal details. Have you noticed how much information even comparative strangers will give about themselves, their parents, their husbands, kids, etc.? When sitting with a group of friends, we can really reveal way too much. Our rule for speaking about our close family should be the same as the one for speaking about others - if we wouldn't make certain remarks when the subject of those remarks is present, then we shouldn't make them when the subject is not. It doesn't automatically cease to be gossip just because we're speaking about a family member.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 2

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. This is part 2 in a 4-part series. You can read part 1 here.

Years ago, when Steve Lawson was our pastor, we had a couples' retreat. One of the sessions led by Steve was on listening and being courteous to one another. He emphasized that when conversing with another person, we should keep our eyes focused on the speaker's face and not allow ourselves to be distracted by anything else taking place in the same location. Steve practiced what he preached. During a conversation with him, he kept his eyes fixed on you. If someone passed by and gave him a quick "hi" or patted him on the arm, he'd not acknowledge it, but would keep totally focused on whoever was speaking to him. To him, it was very discourteous to the other person for him to look away and smile at someone else or give a quick greeting. Ironically, some people characterized him as being unfriendly and rude! His critics didn't understand his view on listening attentively.

Our courteous listening shouldn't be restricted to other adults. My three-year-old Sunday school kids deserve the same attention from me that I'd accord to someone older. So do our husbands and children!

It used to drive my husband nuts if the phone rang when he was speaking to me, because I'd immediately grab it and answer it! This was before we had caller ID, so I had no clue who was calling. Eventually, (I'm a slow learner!) I realized that it was hurtful for him to think that his conversation wasn't as important as any random phone call. Now, I even resist glancing at the phone to see who's called until he's finished speaking.

When you have several young children - especially if you are also home schooling - you have to be realistic. Of course you want to get down to their eye level and show them they're important enough for you to listen intently to what they have to say. However, some little people are very talkative, and you could spend all day just listening to them! As delightful as that would be, unfortunately, laundry doesn't get done by itself nor any of the other household chores. We have eight children - all of whom have been home schooled. While the current baby was sleeping and the older kids were doing schoolwork on their own, I'd rush around doing the various household chores. Often my preschool kids would toddle behind me, chattering away. Stuart, who is now 17, would say, "Mom, are you listening at me?" It was so cute! As he followed me, I'd call out. "I'm listening!" Now that the cute, wee voices have given way to deep, masculine ones, I still find myself automatically calling out, "I'm listening!" when I hear one of the boys who are still living at home say, "Hey Mom!"

Have you noticed how restful it is to speak to someone who is silent while you speak, only nodding or shaking his or head to acknowledge comprehension? No interruption. No mouth open ready to insert a comment as soon as you draw breath. Just listening attentively to what you are saying. That's how we should all be.

If John 13:5 says "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then isn't it being other-centered and showing love by courteously giving someone all our attention? Shouldn't we be different from the world? I've always said to our kids that our home should be a place where we can express our fears without mockery and relate others' compliments about us without derision. We have to be a refuge from a fallen and degenerate world. Our Christian family should be the same way. We should be secure in the knowledge that a Christian brother or sister has our best interests in mind and is eager to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 1

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. Over the next 4 days, we will look at sections of her talk. I hope that breaking it up this way makes it easier for all of you to read about this very timely topic.

I'd like to speak about listening properly to others and being careful about our speech. This has been something that has been on my heart for some time now. James 1:19 tells us to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." This verse can be interpreted various ways - our vertical relationships with God and our horizontal relationships with each other. I'd like to concentrate on the horizontal relationship tonight.

I began to be convicted a few years ago about my inadequate listening skills. My older daughter Victoria and her husband Ben moved to Auburn, Alabama, 5 years ago to pursue their PhD in English. Since we didn't see each other very much, we spent a lot of time on the phone. I'd be so excited to speak to her that I'd barely let her finish her sentence before I'd rush in and give her all our news. In fact, sometimes I was not even really listening to what she was saying, because I was waiting for a pause so that I could have my turn at speaking. Victoria was very gracious and rarely complained. However, occasionally she'd say, "Mom, I hadn't finished speaking!" Gradually, I began to notice it for myself and determined to change. Needless to say, I'm still a work in progress!

I've noticed that I'm not alone in this rude behavior! In fact, the attentive listener is the exception rather than the rule.

Our inattentiveness can take various forms. I'm listing seven, but I'm sure you can come up with others.

  1. Many of us are just waiting for the other person to pause, so we can speak. We're not really interested in what the other person is saying. We just want to speak ourselves.
  2. We don't even allow the other person to finish his or her sentence. We interrupt and turn the conversation back to ourselves.
  3. We interrupt by saying, "Oh, I know what you mean. You mean…," and then go on to give our point of view about the matter. Funnily enough, when this has happened to me, very rarely has the other person been correct in his or her assumptions. If I'd been allowed to finish my thought, this would have been apparent!
  4. We inject little humorous asides as the person speaks, which is very distracting to the speaker.
  5. We don't focus on the speaker, but look around, scanning the room for familiar faces, waving at others, and sometimes even walking away or turning to speak to someone else, while the other person is still speaking.
  6. We have our cell phone clutched in our hot, little hands and answer texts - or even check our e-mail - while the other person is speaking.
  7. We keep our eyes glued to the TV screen while the other person is speaking.

Do we really believe Galatians 5:13-15: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”? If so, then shouldn't we crucify our old flesh, wrench our thoughts away from ourselves for a few minutes, love our neighbor, and focus on what he or she is saying?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Female Friendships

By Becky A.

Female friendships have been on my mind a lot lately. They are both difficult and refreshing, fulfilling and frustrating.

My thoughts on female friendships have evolved over time and probably will continue to evolve throughout my years. In my early years, I desired female friendships, but found myself a very jealous, competitive friend. With those heart issues, I wasn't very successful at female friendships. Most of my close friends were guys, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

As I grew older, got married, and grew in the Lord, I had female friendships, but they were a cheap substitution for a lacking marriage relationship. Wade and I were not close, so I pursued closer friendships with women. Because of the imbalance of these relationships, and the contrast to God's design, my friendships were not godly or sustaining friendships. God wouldn't honor them when I was focused on complaining about my husband, cultivating my own personal interests, and being around people who would meet my needs.

After a time, God began to do a major work in my marriage that brought reconciliation and renewed love for Wade and me. We grew closer. In an over-reaction to the past phase of my relational life, I then began to think that female friendships were unnecessary and "usually sinful." The blame for a bad marriage, I wrongly thought, fell on my female friendships. This, again, was a wrong, unbiblical view of female friendships.

It took a few years, but God began to convict me of how callous and cold this view was. I was hurting women who thought they were my friends. I still remember one particular email that expressed the pain I had caused. My thinking (and boldly sharing what I thought about friendships) also made women confused. They began to question how they felt about female friendships. I made them seem insignificant by the way I talked about my beliefs. Shame on me! It actually showed my immaturity.

As God convicted me, I began to ask Him to show me how to define my friendships with women from Scripture rather than the self-help books that fill our Christian bookstore shelves. What did He desire them to look like? How could they honor the Lord? It also meant that He started challenging me in two areas: What kind of friend was I? And what kind of friend would enhance my walk with the Lord?

I will tell you that my thinking was still not clear or godly, but God slowly began to show me from His Word how to love the body of Christ. As I read passages like Romans 12:9-21, I Corinthians 13, I John, Proverbs 31, Titus 2, and also about how Jesus treated people while He was on earth in the gospels, I saw a different picture of friendship than I had lived my whole life.

If I am honest -- and I have to be -- I will tell you that I didn't like what I was learning. This love that Christ talked about was hard. I enjoyed serving myself! It would require more from me than I wanted to give. And I will tell you it is still hard for me. Godly love in friendships calls for vulnerability, quick forgiveness, forbearance, acceptance, open and honest communication, ability to seek forgiveness, humility, and selflessness: all areas that my prideful heart struggles with daily. It meant I needed to shut up and listen way more than I ever had. Ouch! I needed a fresh, honest look at who I really was inside, and it was not pretty. But it is also kind of the Lord to continue to show me. Being the loving Father that He is, He desires my holiness and can't leave me in my sin.

Though it was hard, my heart desired to be a godly friend and to honor the Lord in this area, so I began to ask God to change me from the inside out. As He has been changing me, I want to tell you some things He is flushing OUT: pride, anger, control, self-protection, holding grudges, high expectations of others but low expectations of me, lots of opinions (mine!), being overly sensitive......just to name a few. There are many!

There are also things He is trying to GROW within me: meekness, self-denial, others-focus, balance, vulnerability, service, acceptance of others who are different from me, and mutual respect. I have a very long way to go in these areas, but God is very patient and long suffering. He continues to show me where I am failing, but also encourages me to repent and turn back to His plan for loving relationships.

There must be, in my own heart, a deep desire to grow in the Lord and to see my friend grow in Christ. This will mean that I am willing to edify them in the Word, as well as gently speak the truth in love when necessary. If someone coddles me while I am thinking wrongly or in sin, they are not my true friend. True friends desire my spiritual intimacy with the Lord.

We mutually respect each other's life and time. We know our place. We care for each other, but sometimes our time together will not reflect just how much. One of the most important aspects for me is that we hold the friendship loosely. What that means to me is this: there is no room for jealousy. We encourage other friendships. We aren't easily offended. When something happens (or nothing happens for a while), we assume the best. We believe the best about each other.

Seeing how my thinking has changed over the years, I can only believe that it will continue to change as I grow in Christ and in experience with women's friendships. Yet, here is where I find myself now. I believe it is more godly and balanced, but I continue to pray that God will open my eyes to see how I can live with female friends in a way to honor Him.

My heart is full with the friendships that God has given me at this time in my life. I can honestly say that I have several very close, godly friendships, and that encourages my heart. God is growing me and, as He grows me, He is sharing with me the blessing of godly friendships. I am daily grateful!

Lord, may I learn to live with others in the body of Christ as You lived among believers while You were here on earth. It will require less of me and more of You. Please make this true in my life. May my friendships always edify the body of Christ.

This article was excerpted from Becky's blog. Read the entire article here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Galatians Done's and Do's

By Jennifer R.

Thabiti Anyabwile recently posted about a session he heard at a conference which summarized the entire book of Galatians. He listed the 29 gospel indicatives (things that are "done") and 13 gospel imperatives (things we are "to do") from the book of Galatians. Since Tim is preaching through this book and many are memorizing it, I thought this list would be helpful for us to review.

29 Indicatives

  1. The gospel is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1).

  2. The gospel delivers us from the present evil age to the glory of Christ (Gal. 1:3-5).

  3. There is only one gospel and to desert it is to be damned (Gal. 1:6-9).

  4. The gospel is ours by divine revelation and not human imagination (Gal. 1:10-12).

  5. The gospel is grounded in a gracious election (Gal. 1:15).

  6. The gospel is constantly in danger of being lost and needs to be defended (Gal. 2:4-5).

  7. The gospel that saves Gentiles is the same gospel that saves Jews (Gal. 2:7-9).

  8. There are ethical imperatives that follow the gospel (Gal. 2:11) and no ethnic distinctions in the gospel (Gal. 2:12-14).

  9. The gospel is good news that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the Law (Gal. 2:15-16).

  10. Through the gospel, we are identified with Christ and His work on the cross (Gal. 2:20).

  11. The love of Christ for sinners is made evident in the gospel (Gal. 2:20).

  12. We receive the Holy Spirit by faith in the Gospel, the same Spirit who justifies and sanctifies (Gal. 3:2-5).

  13. The gospel that saved Abraham in the past is the same gospel that saves us in the present (Gal. 3:7-9).

  14. Relying on good works not only does not save but actually curses (Gal. 3:10-11).

  15. The gospel is the good news that Christ has redeemed us from the curse as our penal substitute (Gal. 3:13-14).

  16. The gospel is rooted in a covenantal promise that precedes the law (Gal. 3:17).

  17. The law is good because it shows us our sin (Gal. 3:19, 21).

  18. The law is good because it is our school teacher who leads us to Christ to be justified by faith (Gal. 3:25-26).

  19. The gospel unites us to Christ where we’re all one in Him–soteriological not ecclesiological (Gal. 3:27-29).

  20. The gospel is grounded in Trinitarian theology (Gal. 4:4-6).

  21. Gospel redemption leads to adoption as a child of the Father (Gal. 4:7).

  22. The gospel gives us a knowledge of God freeing us from rules (Gal. 4:8-11).

  23. Faithful ministers will be passionate for the ministry of the gospel even if it results in anguish and a broken heart (Gal. 4:12-20).

  24. Works-salvation leads to slavery, while Mt. Sinai leads to freedom (Gal. 4:21-31).

  25. To pursue salvation by works obligates us to keep the entire law perfectly (Gal. 5:1-3).

  26. To be justified by works is to fall away from justification by grace through faith (Gal. 5:4-6).

  27. The gospel that saves us also sanctifies us (Gal. 5:7-8).

  28. To preach a false gospel invites judgment and calls for the strongest condemnation from the faithful (Gal. 5:10-12).

  29. The indicative of the gospel naturally leads to the imperatives of the gospel (Gal. 5:13-6:20), which opens onto the imperative section of the letter:
13 Imperatives

  1. We will not indulge and pander to the flesh (Gal. 5:13, 16-21).

  2. In love we will serve others (Gal. 5:13-14).

  3. We will not brutalize one another in word or action (Gal. 5:15).

  4. We will live in the Spirit whom we received when we believed (Gal. 5:22-26).

  5. We will engage in spiritual restoration (Gal. 6:1-2).

  6. We will be humble (Gal. 6:4-5).

  7. We will serve and do our part in the body.

  8. We will bless those who teach us (Gal. 6:6).

  9. We should embrace reaping (Gal. 6:7-8).

  10. We won’t grow weary in well-doing (Gal. 6:9-10).

  11. We will accept persecution for the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:11-13).

  12. We will boast only in Christ and His cross (Gal. 6:14-15).

  13. We will pursue peace, mercy, grace and Christ (Gal. 6:16-20).

Monday, October 10, 2011

A God Thing

By Deborah H.

In the course of my work as a hospice nurse, I met some great people. A few years ago, I was privileged to meet a lady named Sue and her family. Sue’s father was one of my favorite patients. Sue and her husband asked her parents to move in with them so they could care for her dad as his lung cancer continued to take its toll.

There were difficulties, but Sue remained unflappable -- always patient, calm, thoughtful and kind, content to remain in the background. One day when she walked me to my car, I could see the strain and sorrow in her face. Her dad’s death was looming nearer and there were tensions in some of the relationships in the home. Yet, Sue never complained.

Seeking a way to encourage her, I said, “You’re doing an excellent job, Sue. I’m proud of the way you’re caring for your dad and keeping your cool as things get tougher.” She slowly shook her head. “It’s not me.” With tears misting her clear blue eyes, she told me simply, “It’s a God thing, Deborah.” That simple statement served to encourage me, instead.

It was the first time I’d heard that expression. Since then, it has become one of my favorites. It has a way of encompassing so many ideas and concepts. I find it repeatedly useful in my conversations.

What is a “God thing”? I’ve never heard it defined. But to me, a God thing is any situation or concept which is inexplicable except through the lens of God’s total sovereignty. It could manifest itself as an empowering energy behind extraordinary composure or strength (as in Sue’s case), or in a situation of the indisputable evidence of God’s handiwork. It’s true that everything in our lives is brought about by His sovereignty. In that sense, everything is “a God thing.” But we don’t always see His hand in all things. So when I see Him at work in my life, or the lives of others, I sometimes exclaim, “That’s definitely a God thing.”

Some may perceive this little phrase as trite or irreverent. That’s not how I mean it. I’m certain that’s not how Sue meant it. Instead, it’s short-hand for saying, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways. . . . For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen,” (Romans 11:33,36).

That doxology speaks to the wonder and marvel God is. It speaks of His wisdom, majesty and power. It acknowledges His sovereignty in all things. It attributes all acts of goodness and loveliness to Him. It gives Him credit for any circumstance He brings into our lives. It praises His holy Name.

There’s nothing irreverent about saying, “It’s a God thing!” And there are plenty of times when, instead of reciting the whole doxology, I can exclaim this tiny phrase to express my awe.

In her quiet, soft-spoken, unassuming way, Sue attributed her extraordinary composure, peace, kindness and compassion to the Father in four simple words -- “It’s a God thing.”

Once we truly comprehend the truth that “all things” belong to the Lord, it seems we can see His hand in every aspect of our lives. It is through Him that any good comes from us [“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,Ephesians 2:10].

It is through Him that our lives are ordered according to His master plan and design [“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,Romans 8:28]. Nothing that happens to us is beyond His sovereign control [“And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. . . . and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being,’Acts 17:25-28].

That may be a mouthful for some—a little too involved for every conversation. But when confronted with God’s empowerment, His intervention, His blessing, the wonder of His created world, even with the trials and sorrows He brings our way, it is sometimes fitting to simply say, in gratitude and amazement, “It‘s a God thing!”