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It’s here, the big 4-0…. I thought I would share a few of the things God has taught me over the years. You may find these helpful on your own journey. Some of these are only something I needed to know or hear. And well, most are definitely lessons I am still learning because I am a work in progress.

  1. I am a work in progress.
  2. Grace truly lacks a real definition.
  3. I am never alone.
  4. I have purpose.
  5. God’s Love is constant.
  6. When I walk in darkness, He is still there.
  7. The fastest way out of dark, lonely places is to surround myself with the light of God’s people.
  8. My love for others is more important than my need to be right.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Praying for others more than myself will have the greatest impact on me.
  11. Be flexible. Nothing turns out as you planned.
  12. Be Kind.
  13. Pray for your enemies, it is the most powerful form of prayer there is.
  14. Be an encourager.
  15. Good deeds are pointless when they have no purpose.
  16. People pleasing will kill you.
  17. Being a wife is the most selfless thing I will ever do.
  18. Sacrifice has many faces but in spite of what may be sacrificed, the reward is always greater than whatever I was holding on to.
  19. Fear is not from God.
  20. Shame is not from God.
  21. Justice has many forms but ultimately is in God’s hands.
  22. Asking for forgiveness when I am wrong should be my first response, not my last.
  23. Honesty has more power than our fear of the unknown outcome.
  24. People will hate you if you live your calling.
  25. People will hate you when you are getting it right.
  26. People will hate you when you are getting it wrong.
  27. God calls you to love all people.
  28. You will cry more tears than you ever thought possible, and He has captured every one.
  29. Grief is a different journey for everyone and the most incredible opportunity to find comfort in a living God.
  30. Busyness will distract you from your true giftings and calling. Be focused.
  31. Strength and Courage come from the power of God and my willingness to stand firm on His promises.
  32. Know God’s promises. For every battle, God has an answer and a plan.
  33. Being a mother will define you, break you, build you up and change you.
  34. Grace first. When I don’t know what to do, be gracious, be merciful, be loving and be kind. Everyone needs to be forgiven.
  35. It’s ok to let people go. Our greatest weapon is the power of prayer. I am not called to enable, be abused or be taken advantage of. I am called to love.
  36. If God has given me permission, there is nothing I should fear.
  37. Work hard, be willing to go first and set an example.
  38. Laugh.
  39. Have Hope.
  40. Joy is always with you when you focus on the One who has it all worked out for His Glory.

I’ve been walking with God since I was about 15. And there is a Psalm that has been a prayer of mine many days and nights. It reminds me I am not alone, not the only one who has struggled on my journey or felt far from God. But, He is always there, always hears us. Good or Bad, in spite of my self….

Psalm 42: 8 The Lord will send His loving-kindness in the day. And His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.

What lessons has God graciously taught you in your life?

Angela

All in the Family

Earth_Eastern_HemisphereI recently went to China. I saw beautiful temples and shrines, ate some delicious and some not so delicious foods, walked on The Great Wall, went to a house church and a government church, played with precious babies in an orphanage…I could continue, but I think you get the idea. I had many awe inspiring experiences that I will forever hold dear. Sadly, I also saw beggars whose bodies were disfigured, a man banging his head against a wall and foaming at the mouth in the midst of a drug overdose, elderly people falling on broken sidewalks, and lifeless bodies sitting on every street corner.

In China there are people everywhere – literally everywhere. Walking through the streets on any given day is like going to the beach on the first day of Spring Break. It’s complete chaos!  However, in the endless sea of people there is an overwhelming sense of loneliness and emptiness. There is rarely communication between people other than the constant honking of car and scooter horns. And even then, the people being honked at don’t even look at who is honking at them. People simply don’t acknowledge one another.

Being raised in America, especially in the south, this is crazy to me. We are raised to smile, wave, and politely say hello. We are taught respect for our elders, and the importance of helping someone – no matter how small the need. We see videos of everyday people who become heroes by risking their lives to stop a runaway car or lift someone from train tracks.

In China, however, it’s as if people see right through each other. Over and over again, I witnessed complete disregard for human life. At one point, while walking down the street, the group I was a part of came upon a crowd of people taking pictures and videoing. We were anxious to see what the commotion was all about. We were shocked to see a beautiful young lady, who looked to be in her low 20’s, lying in a raised plant bed having some sort of seizure. She was soaked with sweat, hyperventilating, and uncontrollably crying. Her arms and hands were unnaturally twisted and immovable, her legs were stiff as boards, and she could only slightly move her head. Everyone was just staring and gawking at her. She was obviously petrified, and although she was surrounded by people, she was completely alone. No one would get near her. We stopped for just a moment, and then immediately sprang into action. We prayed, got water, wiped her face and chest, and tried to help calm her breathing. A doctor came by, but refused to help because he was on his way to pick his son up from school. There was a doctor’s office just a few doors down. We tried to get help from there, but again we were refused. Finally, an ambulance was called. We couldn’t help her condition, but we could try to comfort and care for her until help came. That’s what people do, right? We help each other. Well, apparently not in China. We had become the new focus. People were shocked that we actually went out of our way to do something. We didn’t just stare and make a spectacle out of the young lady.  We showed her kindness and love.

Over the next few days, we were told several times that Chinese people were “just that way”. They were just disconnected and had a lack of compassion. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around what I was seeing and hearing. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that humans could be so cold toward their own people. Then we met Chinese Christians. These people were just like us. They talked, laughed, hugged, and had genuine concern for one another. I watched women cry and pray together. I heard stories of how they wanted so desperately to reach their fellow Chinese for the cause of Christ. They had compassion, love, and joy. I quickly realized that the people in the scenarios I had witnessed on the streets and in the hotels, stores, and restaurants weren’t merely just “being the way Chinese people are.” The truth is they were just being the way people are without Jesus. The Christians I met had a relationship God; therefore, they had the fruits of the spirit active in their lives. The people with empty eyes and no regard for one other simply needed Jesus.

As I sat in a small group with a bunch of Chinese Christian ladies, they kept saying over and over how wonderful it was that I was their true family.  They said that because we all had the same Father we were connected no matter how far away we were. Of course, I know this and have said it before myself, but hearing them say it with such passion made me rethink the whole concept. They were overjoyed to meet me because I really was their family. These ladies know very well their duty as Christians. They want nothing more than to spread the Gospel to those lifeless people around them. My responsibility as a Christian is to know God, and make Him known. It’s is truly my desire to know God more everyday, and to make him known by my words and through my actions.

Since leaving China I’ve realized the need for American Christians, like myself, to attack this task with a greater intensity and passion. While we go about our daily lives there are people all around us that are empty and dying without Jesus. We’re in the South, so people, Christian or not, are raised to help others. However, our kindness, if not fueled by the love of God in an effort to bring others into the Kingdom, is futile. It may give us warm fuzzy feelings, but we have to see the bigger picture. The Christian church is exploding all over the world, while America seems to be falling away more and more. As Christians our efforts must be intentional and tenacious. We have a responsibility to reach our world for Jesus, but it has to start in our neighborhoods and communities. Love and compassion should overflow from us because we are so full of Christ. Our Christian family in China is doing their best to bring others into our family. My prayer is that we are doing the same.

~Farah N. Rains~

The Changing Universe Points to an Unchanging God

oak_trees
 

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is an awe inspiring thing, if you think about it. The tiny acorn has the potential to become a mighty oak tree-even a thousand forests, as Emerson points out. But where did the acorn come from? It did not appear out of thin air, and it did not bring itself into being. Nothing in this world does. Ex nihilo nihil fit – from nothing, nothing comes. Until the acorn comes to be, it does not exist. If it doesn’t exist it cannot cause anything–let alone its own existence.

As we all know, the acorn came from an oak tree, which came from an acorn before it. The universe is in a constant state of flux. The acorn had to go through some drastic changes to become an oak tree. The acorn has the potential to become an oak tree. At this moment, it is an acorn and not an oak tree. It will actually exist in the future as an oak tree, but it is not in the state of being an oak tree now.

This acorn will not become an oak tree by magic. It may fall from another oak tree into some fertile soil, and with the help of some water, sunlight, and a multitude of other natural processes, sprout. Eventually the sprout will grow into an oak tree, which will grow more acorns, which will fall to the ground and sprout into a thousand oak forests. The tree may grow to a ripe old age, die, and decompose, creating more fertile soil for acorns to sprout in. Or a lumberjack may cut the oak down, and the wood may be used to build a desk.

Any changes from acorn to oak tree require outside forces to act upon the acorn because nothing can give itself what it does not have. The acorn cannot have now what it will come to have in the future. The result of the change cannot exist before the change. The acorn is a potential oak tree, but it needs the water, sunlight, etc., to actually become an oak tree in the future. The oak tree is a potential desk, but it needs the lumberjack to cut it down and send it to a lumber mill to be precessed, and then to a factory to be built into a desk. It cannot change without outside forces making the potential actual.

In other words, the acorn cannot change itself. This is not just true of acorns, but of everything changing in this ever-changing universe we live in. Even self-moving things, such as animal bodies do not move themselves. They are moved by something beyond molecules–the will. When the animal dies, the molecules remain but the body ceases to move because the will is no longer present to move it.

For those of you who are still with me, the external forces changing the acorn are themselves changing. As I stated before, the whole universe is in a constant state of flux. But nothing can change itself.The acorn requires outside forces to make their potential actual. In fact, the very forces which are at work to change the acorn to an oak tree are in a state of change. If we traced all the causes and effects of change in the universe, we would eventually get back to a Being that transcends the universe. This is because if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. However, the universe is constantly changing. Therefore, there must be something in addition to the material universe causing all this change. After all, for anything to exist, something must always have existed, but if the universe is in a constant state of change, something outside must be acting on it, causing the change.

The universe is the sum total of all matter, space, and time, and these three things are dependent on each other. Therefore, a Being who transcends matter, space, and time caused the universe to exist. This Being is not subject to change, but is the Source of change.

While this argument does not get us quite to the Christian God (although it is part of a strong cumulative case for the Christian God), it does get us to a Being who is consistent with the Christian God.

For I the Lord do not change – Malachi 3:6a, ESV

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    but you are the same, and your years have no end. – Psalm 102:25-27, ESV

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8, ESV

This unchanged and unchanging Being must be timeless, spaceless, and immaterial, since it transcends the space-time-material universe. It must be powerful, because it created out of nothing. It must be personal, because impersonal forces do not choose to create. The best explanation of the identity such a Being is God.

I hope I have done this argument justice. It is a simplified version of an argument given by Thomas Aquinas. Although the reader should be able to understand the argument, it is a much deeper argument as presented by the Angelic Doctor and later philosophers. To fully understand it really requires an understanding of Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics, and I recommend reading Aquinas by Edward Feser.

~ Jared Abbott

True Color Transformation

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“I am preparing My bride; the work cannot be rushed.”  When I asked God why some things are taking so long to change, both in the church and within me, this was His answer.  He told me that we are His living stones and His personal temple simultaneously, and that we need to be transformed, as the garden stone creatures in the C.S. Lewis story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Aslan breathes on them, transforming them from dead, hard, colorless stone into moving, breathing, vividly and colorfully alive beings, full of joy and praise.
“Finish then Thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be; let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee.”  ~ Wesley
Becoming is a painful, painstaking process for the most part.  Whilst in the crucible of trials and troubles, one wonders why the fire must be so hot and take so long to do its job.  In The Problem of Pain, Lewis observes,  “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
~ Isaiah 48:10
We the church, particularly in the West, have been numb and asleep by idling in our comfort zones, our “tolerance”, our forgetfulness of the cost Jesus paid for our freedom and the call to reach out with His message of love and salvation.  For His salvation and sanctification, we have substituted cheap human effort, which consistently falls short of the mark.  We have believed in the lie of cheap law, that we can earn God’s favor and love.  These are dead works.  We can never keep God’s law; that is why Jesus had to come.  How can we live effective lives set apart for Him?
In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
John 15: 1,2,4-5
 
We access Him through talking with Him, inviting Him to soften our hearts to hear what He is speaking to us in His Word, our times alone with Him, our times of true worship where we open our hearts in joyful vulnerability to Him, in daily feeding our souls on His Scriptures, and in reaching out to serve when, where, and how He shows us on a daily basis.
Only by being steeped in Him can we become who we are, with our true colors ever-enhanced by His transforming power.  We have the power to choose that every minute of every day.  And in the midst of that, we just might find that growth, {even though it usually is difficult} does not invariably have to be painful.
~ Denise Chambellan

That’s My God

This is a repost back from 2012. Great post and thought it should be share again. Enjoy. ~ Canvas Rhapsody

SunRise

Recently, while reading “The Iliad” (which ,if you’re not familiar with it, is Homer’s poem set during the Trojan War and is saturated with Greek legend and myth), I realized just how grateful I am that God is who He is. I say this because the gods the Greeks worshipped were fickle; they used humans as pawns in their own personal disputes; and they had some very disturbing encounters with humans and animals. Why would anyone want to worship a god like that?
It made me consider–I mean, really, deeply consider–the God I worship…who He is and what He does. Our God is a God from whom all goodness comes. Everything that flows from Him–love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, peace, joy, justice–is in it’s absolute purest, untainted form. Sometimes it’s difficult to truly comprehend just how good He is because we’re so accustomed to the contaminated version of “goodness” that the world offers. But all that He pours out on us is completely pure and unpolluted.
And as if that wasn’t enough, He is a God of boundless power and wisdom. With mere words, He created all that we know as the universe. He rules all of creation (think of Christ commanding the storm to “be still,” and the ravens providing food for Elijah at His bidding). Even all the dark forces must obey His commands. There’s not a force in this universe or beyond that can restrain or overpower Him.
Then to top off all of this, our God is a God who is approachable, not just by priests and “holy men,“ but by everyone. He freely extends His grace to all that will accept it. He loves us at all times and comes to us when we call on Him. This is the type of God I want to worship. I could not adore or devote myself to a God that was any less. He’s a God to whom we can entrust our very lives and the lives of our loved ones. Why would anyone not want to worship a God like that?

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend Your works to another; they will tell of Your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of Your awesome works, and I will proclaim Your great deeds. They will celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.” ~Psalm 145: 3-9

~Alanna

Bumps & Bruises

ladyprayingSometimes it’s the little things. Not big changes but the bumps and bruises that slowly wear us down. They steal our joy, cause us to take our eyes off the purpose.

I recently lost my ability to worship. Ok, that statement seems a bit big, but that’s how it felt at first. I ruptured an ear drum about 6 weeks ago. I can’t hear out of my left side. At first the pain was excruciating, and I didn’t really notice that I couldn’t worship at least not how I like to. But after the third week, when the music echoed instead of rising and falling in beautiful harmonies, the frustration had set in.

I was so irritated by the lack of hearing, I don’t think I noticed I was skipping my regular times of worship. No corporate worship at church, just mouthing the words. No worship at home during times of study or prayer because the sound never balances right. No loud worshipful singing in the car on errands and carpool and travel. It’s just gone.

I’m not a choir singer. And you will never find me leading in a praise band. But, I love to sing to God. I love music and it’s expression of emotion, surrender, prayer, and gratitude. I miss it.

And while my hearing is gradually returning, it is taking enough time that I need to make little changes. I’m not down for the count, but definitely beat up. I hadn’t really noticed that I had let my situation steal my joy.

I am finding new ways to worship. And when I’m home, I just turn the music up louder and sing any way. I know it’s not the end of the world. It’s just an unexpected disappointment. One, I am sure, you too may have experienced. Maybe not in the same way. But, in the way that sneaks up on you and steals your joy.

What do you do to find your joy in the midst of the bumps and bruises?

Angela Stolpe

The New and Living Way

crossEmotional faith is the inward psychological feeling of trust we have for God. Emotional faith encompasses a hope which is more than mere wishing, and a peace which is greater than mere serenity.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). The hope of the Christian is unique. Christians do not hope that they might be good enough to be accepted and rewarded by God. Their hope is in Christ alone.

In other religions there is no real assurance of a reward from God(s). This is because in every other religion human being must work to attain the desired goal. Muslims believe that God places each persons’ deeds on a scale, and if the good outweighs the bad they can enter Paradise. Zen  Buddhists seek enlightenment through meditation. Hindus seek first kama (pleasure), artha(wealth and power), dharma (duty), and ultimately moksha (spiritual liberation), each goal progressively greater than the next.

At what point can it be said with any certainty that any person is good enough? Have you ever met a Buddhist that had reached enlightenment? A Muslim with certainty of paradise? A Hindu who achieved moksha?

Even in the Bible, God’s people under the old covenant tried to please God by living according to the law of Moses, following the rituals of their forefathers and trying to atone for their sins by the blood of bulls, goats, and doves. God had commanded the Israelites to live according to these laws, but it was never his intention that the law could be used as a way to earn His favor. Instead, it was a prophetic foreshadowing of the coming Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who was God in human form, tempted as all people yet without sin. His perfect righteousness made it possible for Him to be the true Passover Lamb whose sacrificial blood takes away the sins of the world.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,

    but a body have you prepared for me;

 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

 “This is the covenant that I will make with them

    after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts,

    and write them on their minds,”

 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

– Hebrews 10:1-22, ESV

Since the Christian hope is not grounded in what they have done or failed to do, but in what Jesus of Nazareth did once and for all, there is true assurance of salvation from the curse of sin and death. That is why God’s grace is so amazing! It liberates the believer from trying to do anything to appease God. Because of the finished work of Jesus, grace is poured out on undeserving sinner. That is real hope. It is more than a wish that you or I can be good enough–Christ our righteousness is more than good enough. That is real peace. We can have peace with God forever through faith in Jesus.

~ Jared Abbott

A Response to Grace in Words

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