Monday, December 31, 2012

Prayer for Grace

By Jennifer R.






My hands will I lift up unto Thy commandments which I have loved.
Open Thou mine eyes that I may see,
incline my heart that I may desire,
order my steps that I may follow,
the way of Thy commandments.
O Lord God, be Thou to me a God,
and beside Thee none else,
none else, nought else with Thee.
Vouchsafe to me, to worship Thee and serve Thee
1. in truth of spirit,
2. in reverence of body,
3. in blessing of lips,
4. in private and in public;
5. to pay honour to them that have the rule over me,
by obedience and submission,
to shew affection to my own,
by carefulness and providence;
6. to overcome evil with good;
7. to possess my vessel in sanctification and honour;
8. to have my converse without covetousness,
content with what I have;
9. to speak the truth in love;
10. to be desirous not to lust,
not to lust passionately,
not to go after lusts.

~ From the Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes

There is so much in this prayer that is convicting to me! The lines that have the most impact on me, though, are the first five lines. There is great humility in realizing that unless God opens my eyes, I won't see. Unless He inclines my heart, I won't desire Him. Unless He orders my steps, I will go my own way and not walk in the way of His commandments.

As we come upon the beginning of another year, some of us will set goals or resolutions for the year. That is a good and healthy thing to do. However, as we set those goals, let us acknowledge that we are powerless to accomplish them in our own strength. May we humbly pray for our eyes to be opened, our hearts to be inclined to desire Him, and our steps to be ordered to follow His ways.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Divine Irony

The quotes below are all by St. Augustine and bring out ironies in the incarnation story. As you read them, take the time to really think about what he is saying. May these quotes help us continue to adore and delight in the Christ child while standing in awe of God's incarnation.

He so loved us that for our sake He was made man in time, through Whom all times were made;
He was in the world less in years than His servants, though older than the world itself in His eternity;
He was made man, Who made man;
He was created of a mother, whom He created;
He was carried by hands which He formed;
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word without Whom all human eloquence is mute. [St. Augustine, Sermon 188 2,2]

He by whom all things were made was made one of all things. The Son of God by the Father without a mother became the Son of man by a mother without a father. The Word Who is God before all time became flesh at the appointed time. The maker of the sun was made under the sun. He Who fills the world lays in a manger, great in the form of God but tiny in the form of a servant; this was in such a way that neither was His greatness diminished by His tininess, nor was His tininess overcome by His greatness. [St. Augustine, Sermon 187 1,1]

He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but makes for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak. [St. Augustine, Sermon 190 3,4]

He who was God was made man by taking on what He was not, not by losing what He was... Let Christ, therefore, lift you up by that which is human in Him; let Him lead you by that which is God-man; let Him guide you through to that which is God. [St. Augustine, On 1 John 23,6]

Truth, eternally existing in the bosom of the Father, has sprung from the earth so that He might exist also in the bosom of a mother. Truth, holding the world in place, has sprung from the earth so that He might be carried in the hands of a woman. [St. Augustine, Sermon 185, 3]

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Warning Sign of Prayerlessness

By Hannah S.

How’s your prayer life?

That’s a question that usually gets the same answer.

“It could be better.”

Until we are face to face with the Lord, our communication with Him will always be lacking. But if you are like me, there are times when prayer comes easily and then there are other times where it is bordering on sheer duty.

Why?

When I find myself struggling to pray, I will often call out to the Lord and ask Him to increase my desire for fellowship with Him. I am beginning to see a pattern of how He has answered these prayers in my life. He answers by bringing circumstances in my life where I feel helpless. I pray fervently when I have exhausted all my efforts and don’t know what else to do to remedy a situation. We even see this in the world as news reporters and political leaders will often refer to prayer during times of crisis. It is very natural for us to cry out to God when we feel helpless.

Helplessness leads to prayer.

So what does this say about areas of my life in which I don’t pray? Somehow, I have fooled myself into believing that I can handle these things and, thus, prayer is not crucial. I believe that I have a plan, a program, or a schedule that will get me to my end goal. The reality is I am much more helpless than I really want to think. Prayerlessness is a warning sign in my life. My lack of prayer is pride that says, “ I’ve got this one covered.”

So if you are like me, and desire to grow in your prayer life, ask the Lord to remind you of your helplessness. It is good to rehearse these truths to ourselves. We are helpless to live this Christian life without the power of the Holy Spirit. We are helpless to respond kindly to our husbands and children. We are helpless to serve without selfish gain, to learn from His word, to love others… The list goes on and on. All of these items should drive us before the throne of God with passion and urgency. Everyday life is more of a crisis than you might realize. We must pray!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Possessing a Heart of Gratitude

Is your heart right? Then be thankful. Praise the Lord for His distinguishing mercy, in “calling you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). Think what you were by nature. Think what has been done for you by free undeserved grace. Your heart may not be all that it ought to be, nor yet all that you hope it will be. But at any rate your heart is not the old hard heart with which you were born. Surely the man whose heart is changed ought to be full of praise.
~ J.C. Ryle

Old Paths, “The Heart”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1999], 356.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What Does Your Worship Say About God?

If an outsider came into your Sunday meeting and observed you worshiping, what would he conclude you think about God? 

Does your expression of worship say how great and glorious, delightful and exciting you think God is? Does your worship say you’ve found God to be faithful and good, loving and satisfying?  Would an outsider conclude you believe God to be real and present?

Or does your worship say you find God about as exciting as an exam on protein chains (maybe you bio majors would get excited about this – I wouldn’t).  Do you sing with all the enthusiasm of someone who has just been asked to shovel 2 tons of manure?  Does your worship say you believe God is distant and uncaring?

What does our worship say about what God did for us? Do we sing like those who have been redeemed eternally from the wrath of God? Like those who have been seated with Christ in heavenly places? Like those who are grateful to have every sin wiped away? Do we rejoice like those who have the king of the universe living inside them?

We should worship God expressively, not for a show or to impress others, but as a way of saying to him how much we love him. That we consider him to be infinitely great and glorious and majestic. That we consider him to be praiseworthy.

Worship is primarily an issue of the heart. So someone could worship God wholeheartedly and not show it on the outside. But I like what I once heard John Piper say – worship begins in the heart but should not stay there. It should be expressed.

Our glad hearts should overflow with thanks for all God did for us in Christ.  Hey, Jesus DIED for us. He was tortured, spit on, mocked, pierced, so that we could be with and enjoy God for ever and ever.  Essentially, Jesus went to hell so that we don’t have to.  Isn’t that worth getting excited about?

We should worship like rich people! Because we are. We’ve been given every spiritual blessing in Christ! We should sing with more enthusiasm than if we just found out we won the lottery.

We should sing like those who know God is working all things for good in our lives. Like those who are being transformed into the very image of Christ. Like those who will worship around the throne for eternity.

God has designed us to express delight in things excellent and beautiful. We gush when we see a glorious sunset. We clap and shout at Coldplay concerts and Steeler games (well, maybe not if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan). We give standing ovations for outstanding accomplishments. Our cheers show what we think of that diving catch or that guitar solo.

Again, our worship isn’t some kind of performance we put on for others. Our worship is for God. But it says something about what we think about him.

This Sunday let’s show God what we think of him and sing the roofs off our church buildings.

Originally posted on The Blazing Center blog, by Mark Altrogge on October 19, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Humility and Hospitality

By Kimberly C.


Many people have told me I am a hospitable person. I guess one can get prideful in these affirmations and think that we have it down and don't need to improve, but this recent season of moving and baby-having has taught me I have a lot of room to grow in this discipline (and it is a discipline).

The famed Merriam-Webster defines hospitality as: given to a cordial or generous reception of guests. And as one growing up in the South, I often think of hospitality as decorating your table nicely for a meal and baking something scrumptious. Neither of these definitions really hit at the heart of what I think true, biblical, gospel-driven hospitality is.

How I would define gospel-driven hospitality is this: a Christ-like attitude that welcomes ALL others as Christ would welcome them - no matter your location, cooking skill, or budget.

Let me give you a biblical example, then a personal example, and end with some take-home points:

BIBLICAL EXAMPLE: David and Mephibosheth. Mephibo-who? Take a few minutes to read it: 2 Samuel 9 (I'll wait...) Here is my KDC version: David was King. He could do anything he wanted with whomever he wanted. His feasts were one-of-a-kind. Mephibosheth was related to King Saul. David had every right to extinguish Mephibosheth or at least not be kind to him. What did David do instead? He invited him to sit down at HIS table and DINE on HIS food. He literally was hospitable to a potential enemy. David showed grace where grace was not demanded. This is one of my most favorite Bible stories.

PERSONAL EXAMPLE: I was talking with Eric while we still lived in Durham and we were talking about who we wanted to come see baby Elijah. I wasn't feeling up to having many visitors but I would say things like: "But, I don't want them to come over.", or "Well, of course they can come and stay as long as they want; they are my friends." I only really wanted people around me who were my friends. I obviously wasn't desirous of hanging out with people with whom I wasn't close. I heard those sentences come out of my mouth and I froze...I wasn't being hospitable. Hospitality demands us to be impartial. Christ doesn't show partiality. We need to extend grace to whomever we can.

How does this connect with humility? In my personal example, it came down to pride. I thought I was better than those people I didn't know. Humility requires that I think of myself less. If the Holy Spirit was working humility in me, then I would be more than willing to have anyone in my home (friend or stranger) and would talk more about them and serve them than I would want to talk about myself.

So, some take-aways:
  1. Ask the Spirit to put people in your life to whom you can intentionally show hospitality. He will work! He wants to work Christ-likeness in you. Be prepared.
  2. Ask the Spirit to work humility in you, as well. This will come as an even bigger shock, but God is humble and we are called to be like Him. Christ served us when He came to earth. He was hospitality and humility in the flesh.

As the Spirit continues to shape your heart to look like His, consider this practice of humility and hospitality.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hospitality and Brownies (Part 3)

By Caitlin D. 

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.


You know how Scripture pops into your mind when you're praying sometimes? As soon as I asked Him, "What do you want me to do?" I suddenly remembered Micah 6:8 "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

At last, I think I'm beginning to see. Wherever you are, whatever you have, you can serve the Lord. The point is to do what you can to serve Him, and live only for His glory. Whether He calls me to a pampered life in the States or not, I can use what He gives me. Everything is for His glory. Whatever I do, I can do for Him. I'm not going to miss His will for my life if I truly want to live for His glory. He won't let me out of His will. There's no way that I can live for Christ and find myself in a cage living a wasted life. That's not what He wants for me. And He isn't reproaching me now for the life I've lived...I think He's giving me a new perspective. I still don't know what He wants me to do with my life, or in what areas He wants me to serve; I still feel kind of like I'm spinning in mid-air after all that I've seen today, but I feel certain now that He'll show me what He wants me to do.

I tried to explain some of this to S. I'm not sure how much she could make out from my confused words, but pretty soon we begin talking about household matters, and I'm reminded that I offered to help her make some brownies for the company that's coming over tomorrow night. I re-offer and head into the kitchen. She shows me a recipe, and I take over.

A curious enthusiasm awakes in me. I'm so glad to have something tangible to do with my hands! I've felt so awfully helpless all afternoon, and now I can do something to serve!

And then with this new perspective, the world around me falls into recognizable order. I'm no longer spinning; I know where I am, what I'm doing, and why. Joy and thankfulness bubble up inside me as I realize that perhaps as I was crying out to God, "What do you want me to do?" His answer to me was (with a smile): "Go and make those brownies!"

God is pleased with everything that is done for His glory, even if they are things we think are mundane or unimportant like mopping the floor, cleaning up trash, or changing a baby's diaper. When done with a joyful attitude of service, we can perform the smallest chore for God's greater glory. Of course, to say that God's answer to me was to make a pan of brownies is a bit of an oversimplification. There is no easy answer to that, but He doesn't answer that kind of question all at once. What His answer seemed to be was, "Just start serving, and I'll show you where to go."

If ever brownies were made for the glory of God, those brownies I made that night were. They were chewy and irresistible, and D. and I and a few of the kids made sure none of the batter went to waste. I even put in my special multicolored sprinkles that I'd brought from home. But equally sweet was the new, fresh perspective God gave me that day. Through hospitality and brownies.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hospitality and Brownies (Part 2)



By Caitlin D. 

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here.


After the study, a certain lady invites us to her home, and we go. Like many other ladies, she asks S. if I am her sister. Apparently they think we look alike. S. laughs and explains that I am her friend from her country. This lady looks at me, and her eyes are positively glowing. She lays her hand on my shoulder and she says that she feels she loves me already and that she is so, so glad that I am here.

I'm grateful, but I feel like an imposter.

She has us come into her house, and S. begins to show me around. I step into the doorway of a mud house. Inside it's as black as night. I stand inside and know that I'll never forget this. It's a house built of mud. There are no windows. S. shows me a circle of burnt wood, and she explains that that is where she cooks her meals. I feel my stomach tighten inside me.

Beyond is a slightly larger room, where she sleeps with all of her children, and that's all there is to the house. She then takes us outside, where she has a wooden bench next to a table, and there's a colored canopy spread over it. On the table is a tiny sewing machine, and S. explains to me that that is how she earns the money she and her children live on. She tells us to be seated, and so we sit. She wants to serve us some food, which is the height of hospitality in India, I'm told.

A surge of emotion wells up inside me as she leaves to bring it to us. This is hospitality at its peak. This woman has so little, and yet she earnestly wants to share and make us her guests. She brings us out some roasted corn, and two little glass bottles of Mountain Dew. Wait, she's bought us Mountain Dew??

"Oh Lord, protect my stomach, please," I hear S. say with a grin. I pray the same thing. All these flies are buzzing around us, and I'm trying my best not to flinch too obviously like a spoiled Westerner.

S. digs right in, and I follow her example. I have never seen true hospitality until today. I have never seen it so self-sacrificing and so happily given. I look into this lady's shining eyes, and I feel such shame and disgust at myself that it's working its way into a sick feeling inside me. I'm trying to keep it down so that I don't begin weeping right now in front of her.

After we finish eating and drinking, S. visits with her, and after a farewell, we drive back home.

The house is quiet, and even though I'm not tired, all I can do is lie down. I'm overwhelmed by what I have just seen, and yet I can put no words to my emotions. I have to sort myself out.

I think about this afternoon. The hungry hearts, the mud house, the stark poverty, the lifestyle of toil and hardship. Then I see her eyes, shining with joy and love. I think of her words to S: "Didi, I need nothing! I have everything in Christ!"

I close my eyes and feel a struggle forming within me. What I have just seen is the polar opposite of the only lifestyle I have ever known. Of course I've read about things like this. Of course I've heard about them from missionaries that come to our church. I've even seen the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire," a powerful movie about a boy who was born in the slums of India. But actually seeing this kind of poverty with my own eyes has almost unmade me.

At least that's how I feel now. Unmade.

Nothing can ever be the same again. What I have just seen demands a response from me. But what kind of response? I have no idea.

I'm smote inside with guilt at the pampered life I've led. But God gave me those things, so they weren't sin for me to have. I probe deeper into my heart. I'm aware of a frantic fear that I'm trying to control, but what is it?

What I find myself praying is, "Oh, Lord! What do you want me to do? What ever can I do? Just tell me...what must I do?"

Then I understand. I realize that I must never forget what I have seen, but I don't know how to live my life in the right response of it. What does He want me to do? I'm suddenly aware of how He owns my life and how He can demand anything of me. I'm afraid because I want to obey, but what will He ask of me?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hospitality and Brownies (Part 1)


By Caitlin D.

Some weeks ago, S. asked me to go with her as she led her ladies' Bible study in the village, and I accepted.

As we drove, she began to tell me about the living conditions in the village. The houses are often made of dirt, and when the heavy rains come, sometimes the houses fall in on top of them. The water that they use is pumped by hand from the underground streams that branch off from the Ganges River.

I listen to her as she describes all this, and I think about my comfortable home in the States. I think of my cushy lifestyle, and of how easy it is to be a Christian in my part of the world. Shame and uneasiness begin to creep over me like a dark cloud. But I kept a cheerful face and resolved to play it by ear and simply do my best.

We come to a little house and women and children gather around S. She begins to talk merrily with them, and when she introduces me, they all smile.

We all sit down, and she begins a song. They all join in and they clap their hands in a lively rhythm. I don't know the song, but I clap along enthusiastically. I hear everyone singing, as we say in the States, "with gusto." (May I just say right here that any Christian who refuses to let his voice be heard because he or she "doesn't have a good voice," would do well to visit another country and see how eager everyone in the tiny churches are to praise the Lord together, whether or not they "can sing." It does a heart good to hear wholehearted, unpretentious singing!)

S. begins to teach, and absolute silence falls. I watch the faces of the women and children. Their eyes are riveted on her face. Some of them are actually leaning forward a little, intent on catching every word. The children are crowded round the door, and they too are absolutely spellbound. I look at the pictures that S. holds up, and I watch her gesture with her hands. I listen to the tone of her voice, and I find I can follow along a little. What strikes me most is S's face. She is radiant. Her eyes glow from their very deepest depths, and I can hear love and joy and delight spilling out in every word she utters. She is placing a spiritual feast before a group of starving sisters. This is what she does. She left her comfy life in the States so that she could be like Christ, serving the "least of these."

I look deeply into her eyes, and I feel passion stirring up my soul. I want to serve like that. I want to live a life that is useful to Christ. I want to help others in my life, just like her. I want that kind of joy, and as I look at the faces of these needy hurting hearts, I say in my heart, "Oh, Lord, please make me useful to You! Let me live a life that helps others, so that I can further Your kingdom!"

Monday, October 29, 2012

Soli Deo Gloria

By Kimberly C.


I became familiar with John Piper even before I started seminary in 2000. A pastor of mine introduced me to his book Desiring God. The main quote of John Piper's is "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." That one quote means more to me now then it did when I first heard it. I will come back to the quote at the end of this post...stay tuned.

I opened up my ESV app on my phone the other day (just being honest, I didn't open my Bible, my phone is easier to hold when feeding the baby at 2am), and opened it to Galatians. It's so neat how, within the first 5 verses, God had convicted me of sin and given me His precious Word to meditate on.

"(Jesus Christ) who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen." (Galatians 1:4-5)

This verse has so many key points. Here we go:
  1. Jesus was given for us. Given by whom: the Father. God in His graciousness gave filthy sinners His beloved Son.
  2. He was given for our sins: even our good works (filthy rags) need salvation.
  3. He was given to deliver us from this present evil age. He basically came to free us from the tyranny of sin. Paul was writing to the church at Galatia, who lived in an evil time. We, here in 2012, live in an evil age. Let me illustrate just today. I am sitting here with my foot on a rocker-sleeper looking at a precious little boy sleep away (believe me, I am grateful). As I pull out the iPad and read blogs that I love, I find myself wanting a different life. Right now my life is my son and my husband. One is definitely easier than the other. Eric doesn't wake up 4 times a night and need feeding. Baby E doesn't know what potty training is. But, God has given me a special privilege that He has given to no other person. No one else in this entire world gets to be Elijah's Mom. I do. My sin in this: not being content with where God has me and what God has given me. Maybe some other things will come up later in life like they were in my life prior to this last month, but that is for Him to design. DIScontentment = sin. So for me, one vice I have to be careful of is how I use the internet and how it can grow discontentment in me. Discontentment is sin and one that I have to combat daily.
  4. Our Father God knows how to give good gifts. James 1 says that and I have come to know this fully well.
  5. Why did God the Father do all of this? Why did God send His only begotten Son to die on a cross for sinners and enemies? Was it solely for our good that He did this? No. He did this, as this verse says, for HIS glory. He gets all of it. We can take none of the credit for our salvation. We did nothing to earn it. We did nothing to receive it. 

All the hours of our lives should reflect this one purpose: live free of sin (by God's grace and the enablement of the Holy Spirit) for God's glory. God is infinitely glorious and we need to live for that glory.

So, how we can today (I'm talking to myself here), show God's infinite glory to this world? Be satisfied in God and God alone - for HIS ultimate glory in this world.

The Reformers were on to something when they put this as the last of the five solas.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Family Resemblance

By Kim. M.


Don’t you just love an “Aha” moment? This morning I had an “Aha” morning! It started when I read a Facebook post from a grown man wishing his dad a happy birthday. In the post he said, “I know I’m doing something right when people tell me that I remind them of you.”

My first thought was, “Wow, what a compliment for any parent!” But as I let that post sink in, it caused me to wonder, “Could any of MY kids say this about me? About the life I live?” This thought took me back in my mind to March, 1998. Katie, our oldest was seven and in second grade. I found a note she had written that said, “I want to be like Mommie”. I remember reading that note and having the very breath sucked right out of me as the impact of those words hit me. From deep inside I cried out, “Be like me?! No! Not like me, KATIE, not like ME!”

I tucked that note in my Bible…right on the page with 1 Corinthians 11:1 where it says: Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. I’ve let the note and the verse serve as a motivating truth for the last 14 years. The sobering reality is….my kids are watching me. They do imitate me. And with each new child God has brought into our home, the weight of that reality has increased. I want my kids to imitate me only as I imitate Christ. I want to live a life that is transparent so that they can learn from my mistakes and grow from what He is teaching me. This reality also challenges me to keep my eyes on Him; to focus on the goal of becoming more and more Christ-like.

I have had the privilege of having a mentor in life who set an example of pursuing Christ-likeness. Hebrews 13:7 always reminds me of her. It tells us to “remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you, and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” Ever notice how someone lives a life that is an example worth following? They do it by faith, and they lead both in word and action. It’s not just the talk, it’s also the walk. Yes, they speak the word – they correct, reprove, exhort, and encourage with godly counsel; but they also live in such a way that their life matches their words. We see their faith in the result of their conduct. They live a life of faith that is “imitation material.” Do they live it perfectly? Of course not- none of us do. But when we observe their words and life, we discover character and faith worth imitating because they imitate Christ.

There is a poem written by John Wooden, the late coach of the UCLA Bruins, entitled “The Little Chap Who Follows Me” that I have reflected on over the years. I have taken the liberty of changing a few words and pronouns to apply this poem to my life; to motivate me to holy living. See if it gives you pause for thought, too.

The Little Girl Who Follows Me

A careful mom I ought to be,
A little girl follows me,
I do not dare to go astray
For fear she'll go the selfsame way.

I cannot once escape her eyes,
Whate'er she sees me do, she tries;
Like me, she says, she's going to be,
The little girl who follows me.

She thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine
The base in me she must not see,
The little girl who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Through summer's fun and winter's snow,
In building for the years to be
The little girl who follows me!

What a reminder even now as my three “little girls” are young women, that I am always setting an example before them with my life. My heart felt prayer, whether in mothering or mentoring, is written in the margin of my Bible beside Hebrews 13:7. It says, “O Lord, may this verse be true of me someday! May my children be able to say this… that I live a life worth imitating because I imitate You… for Your glory.” It is HIM I want them to see… to see through me to Him! Isn’t that what it’s really about? Living in such a way that others see Him in me… that they see the family resemblance?

This leads me to my second “Aha” moment of the morning. As I continued to ponder on the birthday post (“I know I’m doing something right when people tell me I remind them of you.”), another truth of this simple post became clear. It’s not just living my life as an example for others to follow but THIS is one way I glorify my Father in heaven! It’s by living my life in such a way that others say, “You remind me of Him!” My words and example reflect my Father and His grace and work in me! This was a “connect the dots” thought for me. Although I am sure this truth should have been obvious all along, some days I can be a slow learner. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” I live as an example to others and I live as a reflection of my Father… all to bring Him honor.

Is it a coincidence that this verse, Matthew 5:16, was my mentor Lib Wenger’s life verse? I think not! She purposed to live a life worth imitating and one that reflected her Father and gave Him glory. Living a life worth imitating doesn’t happen by accident. Living a life worth imitating is made one choice at a time through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. My life is not about me. It’s about Him. So now added to my prayer of living a life worth imitating – I pray that when others see my life, it is a reflection of my Father and a reflection that brings Him glory. I know I am fully accepted in Christ, because of His work for me on the cross. As a result of that glorious truth, I want my life be an overflow of my heart for all He has done for me. May I bring a smile to His face when others say “You remind me of your Father.”

May the reality of belonging to the Father’s family be lived out daily in all our lives so that others may see our good works, and our “life worth imitating,” and may that glorify our Father. When others look at our lives, may they see the “family resemblance.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Trash to Treasure

By Jennifer R.

Do you ever watch those TV shows where they take some ugly, worthless, beaten up item that you or I would probably throw in the trash and transform it into something beautiful and useful?

It struck me today that that's a lot like what God is doing with us. He takes ugly, worthless sinners and transforms them into beautiful trophies of His grace.

And He doesn't stop there! He keeps refining us and beautifying us until ultimately (in heaven), we are completely transformed and perfected. I think we would be unrecognizable, except we are told that we will somehow know each other.

Can you imagine it? I can just see us now, walking around heaven, saying something like, "You made THIS out of THAT old thing? Incredible!" We will be utterly amazed with the Master Craftsman.

One effect of watching TV shows like that is that they cause us to look at "junk" in a whole new way. Our creative juices get flowing and instead of rushing to throw something away, we start looking for ways to "re-purpose" it.

What if we looked at people that way? Instead of mentally writing someone off as hopeless, maybe we should be imagining what a miraculous transformation God could make in their lives. Imagine how useful they could be made under the skillful hand of God.

Would that affect the way we treat them? The way we speak to them? The way we pray for them?

I think it would.

Is there someone in your life you're tempted to give up on? If so, try imagining them as the newest recipient of God's Extreme Makeover: Heart Edition. And then pray that God would make something even more beautiful out of their lives for His glory.

Re-posted from Jennifer's blog, Reflections by Jennifer.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Prayers for My Husband

By Kim W.

I desire to pray for my husband on a daily basis. I know how important that is, but sometimes I lack the specifics of what to pray for. Also, I tend to pray for the same things, not looking to Scripture to guide me on how to pray. This biblically based list (click on the link to go to the list) reminds us all 1) what to pray and 2) how to use Scripture in our prayer life as we pray for our husbands. It has been helpful to me... just thought I would pass it on! Pray without ceasing, ladies!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mrs. Grace

By Hannah S.

Don’t you love technology? Many who know me may be surprised to hear such words from my mouth, but technology has allowed me to be blessed many times over the last few months. As we have accepted the precious gift of a new baby into our lives, I have had to make some changes, and one of those changes has to do with one of my favorite things: reading Christian books. As much as I love a good book, my sleepy brain just can’t seem to make it through even a few pages. As I was expressing this to a dear friend, she encouraged me to begin to listen to sermons online as a way to encourage my soul spiritually. What a joy it has been to have at my fingertips some of the greatest communicators in the evangelical world!

One particular message was so convicting and meaningful to me that I wanted to share it with you. The message is by Jani Ortlund and was given at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Orlando this June. The message is entitled: “Marriage through Gospel Eyes: Mrs. Law or Mrs. Grace” (Click on the title to listen to the message.).

Jani does an incredible job addressing the struggles that we often have of being gracious – especially with our husbands. Her sweet demeanor and her vulnerability help one to digest the conviction that she brings from God’s Word. She shares stories from her own life that allow us to see that she understands the struggle and temptations that many of us face in marriage. Whether your marriage is healthy or whether you are feeling hopeless, Jani brings you hope from God’s word. The answer for a Godly marriage and happy home life is really found in the gospel – the gospel of grace. I pray that as you listen to this message that God’s Word would transform each of us so that our homes are full of grace and our husbands might be happy to call us Mrs. Grace.

Monday, October 1, 2012

You're Not the Boss of Me!

by Deborah H.

Recently I’ve been moved by the difficulties several of our membership are having “raising” aging parents. As many of you know, I’m in this boat, too. My parents have presented complex challenges to my life, for sure. And I must say, it is an extremely frustrating and confusing exercise. I always thought “rebellious teenager” would be the hardest situation to manage. But now I know differently. “Aging parents” is the tougher of the two.

Perhaps that’s because we owe so much to them for all they’ve sacrificed for us over the years. Perhaps it’s because as children, we still must honor our parents and treat them with respect. Sometimes that’s really complicated when the tough decisions must be made and implemented.

In ways, there are similarities between rebellious teenager and aging parents:
  1. In both cases, we are deemed “the enemy.”
  2. In both cases, they believe they are perfectly capable of living independently from us. We know better. But when we try to explain to them the ultimate consequences of their actions and behaviors, they tell us we’re just being negative. One group’s functional independence is in the future. For the other, it’s sadly in the past.
  3. In both cases, no matter how gently we try to present alternative views and suggestions, they take it as criticism and answer with emotional outbursts.
  4. In both cases, they bad-mouth us to their friends.
  5. In both cases, they suspect our motives. Instead of seeing the intense love that motivates our assistance and guidance, they think we’re being mean, that we enjoy “putting them down.”
  6. In both cases, when we make the effort to keep up with what they’re doing, where they’re going, who they’re seeing, how they’re struggling, we are told we’re trying to control them when we are actually looking for ways to help.

I’m telling you, it’s a hard road, this parenting your parents. We must be so careful with how we speak to them, what we suggest, how to care for them while promoting as much independence as they can actually achieve. At first, maybe it’s just picking up on things that indicate they could be losing their cognitive abilities. Or maybe we can see that their physical abilities have diminished.

We take them to the doctor and stay with them because many times they don’t remember what the doctor said if we don’t. We make sure there is food in the cupboards and in the refrigerator—and must also make sure it’s not all still there the next time we visit.

We begin to take on more and more responsibility. We fill their pill boxes every week because they’ve begun to get confused about when they take what. We must look to their every day hygiene. Sometimes we have to ask, “When was the last time you bathed, Mother?” This is usually met with something resembling, “None of your business.” She doesn’t see how much pain it causes when you notice the smell of unwashed flesh about her when she’s always been so fastidious about her grooming.

When we see their car parked horizontally on the driveway or get calls from strangers telling us our parents have gotten lost on their way to or from their house, we know we must step in and take their car keys, no matter how much they protest. Their safety and the lives of others on the road trump their hurt feelings and damaged egos.

Inevitably, we find they are not able to stay by themselves anymore. It becomes necessary to move them closer to us, or in with us, or move in with them, or move them into an assisted living facility, or even a nursing home. It breaks their hearts to leave their home, to whittle their possessions to fit their new accommodations. They don’t realize how it also breaks our hearts to do it.

Just like we must ensure spiritual nourishment with our children, we must also look to our parents’ needs in this important area, as well. There again, many times this input is not appreciated and is sometimes even resented.

My mom sometimes says, “I wish you’d think about me every now and then.” Oh, if she only knew that there are very few moments of the day and night that she is NOT on my mind.

This brings me to the last similarity between rebellious teens and aging parents—no matter how sacrificially we serve them, love them, guide them, chauffeur them, and care for them, we are almost totally unappreciated. That’s hard to bear for most of us. My pet peeve in this arena is this: I don’t do these things for kudos and expressions of appreciation. Those things are nice every once in a while, it’s true! But I can serve without that. What makes me angry is when I’m doing everything I can for them and meet with criticism and resentment in return. “Okay, don’t give me the positive. I can handle that. But don’t give me the negative criticisms when I’m trying so hard to please you.” That’s when pride raises its head in my life.

The point is this: we cannot, in either case, allow their ingratitude to affect our level of care. We must still provide guidance, care, instruction, and (don’t forget) LOVE! So many times I have to remember Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Wow! What a motivator for service. When my heart is faint within me and I want to throw my hands up and say, “Okay, you’re on your own,” I have to stop and remember that what I do for my parents I do for Christ.

If I think in those terms, it’s my Lord’s hand I hold to keep Him steady. It’s His food I prepare and sometimes feed to Him. It’s His well-being I’m most concerned with. It’s His safety I look after.

Our parents sacrificed for us and loved us when we were an awful lot of trouble and expense. They struggled through the tough years for us. Now it’s our turn, no matter what the sacrifice, even if they don’t appreciate us, even if they’re an awful lot of trouble, even if they’re costing us a lot of our hard-earned money. This is the way of things.

I hear you talk about these issues. I notice the heart-felt prayer requests. I sense the emotional and physical toll it’s taking on some of you. And my heart overflows with compassion. I know how hard it is. And I just want you to know I understand.

One day, we won’t have this struggle anymore. One day, they will have passed away. Already I’m steadily saying goodbye to aspects of their personalities and their traits. Already I’m missing the mom and dad I used to have. But one day, I’ll have them no more. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to serve them better today.

Brothers and sisters, we are commanded to bear each other’s burdens. Let us offer encouragement and support to each other as we navigate this oh-so-tricky time in our lives and in the lives of our parents. Through prayer, trust, effort and love, we can each approach this service as a special ministry opportunity. And may God be with us! It is His strength that will enable us to see this through to the inevitable end.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Blessedness of Consecration

By Jennifer R.

One of my favorite hymns of consecration is "Take My Life and Let It Be" by Frances Ridley Havergal. I have recently begun reading the book Kept For the Master's Use: The Life Fully Devoted to God by Havergal, where she takes each couplet of that great hymn and expands on it.

In the first chapter, she changes the word "take" in each couplet and changes it to "keep," making the point that we not only want God to take our lives, but to keep them and use them how He wishes. That is truly the meaning of consecration. She then gives this convicting explanation of what our motivation should be in asking for this:

Consecration is not a religiously selfish thing. If it sinks into that, it ceases to be consecration. We want our lives kept, not that we may feel happy, and be saved the distress consequent on wandering, and get the power with God and man, and all the other privileges linked with it. We shall have all this, because the lower is included in the higher; but our true aim, if the love of Christ constrains us, will be far beyond this.

Not for "me" at all, but "for Jesus"; not for my safety, but for His glory; not for my comfort, but for His joy; not that I may find rest, but that He may see the travail of His soul and be satisfied! Yes, for Him I want to be kept. Kept for His use; Kept to be His witness; kept for His joy! Kept for Him, that in me He may show forth some tiny sparkle of His light and beauty; kept to do His will and His work in His own way; kept (it may be) to suffer for His sake; kept for Him, that He may do just what He wants with me; kept, so that no other lord shall have any more dominion over me, but that Jesus shall have all there is to have - little enough, indeed, but not divided or diminished by any other claim. Is not this, O you who love the Lord - is not this worth living for, worth asking for, worth trusting for? This is consecration, and I cannot begin to tell you the blessedness of it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Top 10 Steps for Building a True Christian Marriage

By Kim W.

I believe Mike and I have a strong, biblical marriage some days... but even on our good days we sin, and that sin affects our relationship in countless ways. On our worst days, we selfishly seek our own desires and plead to have the other meet our needs... not bringing glory to God and failing miserably to show a watching world (more specifically, our own children) the love of Christ.

The heartbreak in all of this is that we will never have a perfect marriage. It just isn't going to happen, but we can all strive to live out this earthly marriage, by God's grace, in a way that shows that Christ has changed our hearts to love Him, first of all, and to love our husbands in a way that brings God glory. The wonderful news is that God knows we are not going to be perfect in our marriages and in all our strivings. We can never be that perfect picture of God's unfailing love, but we can trust Him, depend on Him, and seek Him to give us everything we need to live biblically. He has unlimited riches of grace to shower upon us, and it is Him that brings about any good that is produced from our marriages. Looking at my own life, that is a miracle!

I recently saw this list of steps for building a true Christian marriage (see link below). As you read this list, ask the Lord to change your heart to love your husband in a way that truly brings God glory, making that the focus of your heart. He will do His perfect will in your life. He is the only One that can!

Top 10 Steps for Building a True Christian Marriage

Monday, September 10, 2012

Be the One

By Becky A.

On the way to Jerusalem, He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When He saw them He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. Then ONE of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."

In a world of grumbling and complaining, I want to be counted among the One. I want the Lord to open my eyes to see each and every day what He has done for me. There are so many things in my life that vie for my attention - to worry or be anxious about. Why is that voice so much louder than the voice of the blessings I have right in front of me?

Lord, open my eyes to see Your daily gifts to me. Little things like laundry which means You have blessed me with family who are healthy. Thank You for the opportunity to serve them.

Thank You for the chance to homeschool my kids. Today I dread it, but it's my own sinful, selfish, lazy heart. Instead, make me grateful that they are here with me each day.

Thank You for work, for it reminds me that You cursed the ground and not Adam in the garden.

Thank You for the early morning quiet, because it gives me a chance to refuel with You through prayer and Your Word.

Now, Lord, it's easy to be thankful early in the morning, but only because there has been no chaos yet. My kids will wake up soon, and we will start our day of school and chores. I have mounds of laundry to do, and the garage sale stuff is overtaking my home. Tonight I have company coming to the house. In all of the preparation and all of the things and people I will interact with today - in it ALL - make my heart see YOU and Your gifts.

Show me as many things as I can handle seeing today.

And make me grateful.

Like the One.