Sunday, September 15, 2019

There's No Substance Here

Some years ago, I witnessed a conversation that changed my perspectives on conversation – as well as on thoughts, reasoning and fairness. A man in a position of authority, we’ll call him Mr. A, was required to investigate a rather vague accusation brought by Mr. B against Mr. C. He knew Mr. B to be a troublemaker, but, nevertheless, was required to follow up. While questioning Mr. C, Mr. A realized that the implied offense could not have taken place. Upon that realization, he dropped the investigation with the observation, “He didn’t make any specific charge. There’s no substance here.”
“No substance here.” An accusation was made, implying wrong-doing and disparaging a man’s character. It sounded serious. Yet, there were no facts or evidence offered, only emotionally-charged words.
It’s easy to engage in name-calling without explaining the reason. “S/he’s a jerk, a gossip, a slacker, a cheat, a liar, a lousy friend.” Name-calling is not merely the province of children; adults freely and without shame engage in it publicly.
It’s easy to make accusations that seem terrible, without actually naming any offense. “She abused me.” What was the abuse – name calling, slander, physical attack, demanding too much work, not delivering your cheeseburger and fries on time? Never mind; the accusation has been made and the accused is a bad person. “He made me look bad.” To whom? By lying? By telling the truth? By doing well? Never mind; the accusation has been made and the implied criticism stands. “Yes, I did it, but it was her fault.” She actually caused your behavior? Or you reacted to her with anger, vanity, or revenge in mind? Never mind, the blame has been laid.
Making an accusation or calling a name without naming an actual offense is a form of dishonesty. God feels pretty strongly about “empty words” and the accompanying dishonesty. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Eph. 5:6.
Just by our human nature, it’s easy to fall into a “default mode” of criticizing everything and everyone. The world around us is daily pouring over us a deluge of dishonest criticism without substance; it is too easy to follow along, to agree, to repeat and, internally, to despair.
We who are Christ-followers would never do such a thing. Except maybe in a private conversation. Or on Facebook. Or to the news media. Or to the resident authority, whether boss, pastor, parent, personnel director or teacher.
Colossians 4:5,6 says, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.” (ESV) “Be wise in your behavior towards non-Christians and make the best possible use of your time. Speak pleasantly to them, but never sentimentally, and learn to give a proper answer to every questioner.” (Phillips translation)
If we wish to speak on issues of the day or merely comment on someone’s ideas or behavior, let us be honest and straightforward. Kind, specific and encouraging speech should characterize every one of us. The word used is “always.” If the world is to know we are Christians by the love we have for one another, our words are certainly a large part of that. If we can encourage non-believers toward Christ, also requiring love, we must have “substance” in our words. When we hear accusations or religious claims or political speech or accounts of events from others, we need to ask ourselves, “Is there any substance here?” and reject those if the answer is “No.”
The best way to put “substance” into our words is to speak the precepts of Scripture. Some of those are positive and some are negative, but all have substance. God does not waste His time or ours on empty words. If we would be beautiful representatives of the Beautiful One, we need to make sure our own conversation is like that of Him Who said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Jn. 6:63

--Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Illusion of Control

We humans give ourselves much more sovereignty in running our lives than we actually have. We work hard and save money to avoid a financial crisis down the road. We eat healthy and exercise to live long lives. We research everything from sleep-training to different types of education to give our kids the best future possible. But what happens when the unexpected takes place despite doing everything right? The long months without a job. The health diagnosis. The child who wanders away. Maybe we realize that we never had control in the first place.  It was all an illusion.

Since my husband and I heard the word ‘cancer’ on May 7, the Lord has graciously been plowing the ground of my heart, uprooting that which was looking to self and not to Him. The greatest and hardest of the uprooting has been in the area of worrying. This has been a struggle for me since childhood. There have been seasons in which worry was not intense, but then there have also been seasons in which I have been plagued by fears. Leading up to my husband’s cancer diagnosis I was in a very intense period of the latter. The finding of multiple malignant tumors in the muscle tissue of Kelly’s stomach obviously magnified this exponentially.

One afternoon amidst fearful thoughts concerning all the unknown, it was as if the Lord said, “Amy, choose to stop worrying. Fight against it.” And I wondered what it would be like to choose not to worry, to really stop the worries in their tracks. Surprisingly, in that moment, I realized I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to stop worrying. Why? Why, when worrying is so all consuming, would I not want to fight it? That afternoon I realized two important things:

One, we worry over that which we want to control. Worrying reveals my desire to control my future and the future of those I love. My worries tend to revolve around the ‘whatifs.’ I know what I want my future to look like and how I think it will work best with the least heartache and pain possible, and if this is threatened, I worry. As the illusion of control slips from my fingers, I try to process the various outcomes, maybe in an effort to prepare myself so nothing catches me off guard. Choosing not to worry then is like admitting I can’t control the future or prepare myself for every scenario, showing that worrying itself is pointless. But isn’t this what Christ already told us? In Matthew 6, Jesus asks the question, “Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?” And in the parable of the man who stored grain in order to have a nice retirement but died before being able to enjoy it, he shows us our inability to control our futures despite the best planning (Luke 12). So here is the truth we need to grasp: I cannot control my life or the lives of those I love. Neither can you. We become frantic and worry when we are the ones trying to figure it all out, solve the problem, and get life back to a comfortable normal. But a comfortable normal was never promised to me or you. Something better though was promised: That an all-sovereign, loving, and wise One controls all that happens in our lives and promises to use it for good. That our future rests securely in Him and there we can find peace. I agree with Pastor Matt Chandler who, during his own season of battling brain cancer, realized, “It is a freeing thing to understand that you have no control.” As long as you think you do have control, you will be filled with anxious striving to bring about your happy ending and will be crushed when you can’t make it happen.

The second thing I realized that afternoon is my faulty thinking that choosing not to worry means I don’t care. This is a lie that must be fought with truth. It is true that I only worry about the things that I care about, but this does not automatically mean that I don’t care if I don’t worry. You see, Christ Himself, who cared deeply about others, commanded us not to worry (Matthew 6:25ff). Worrying and caring are not synonyms. Caring is a healthy concern that will drive me to do what I can (look for a job, follow the doctor’s advice for health, do what I believe is best for my children), realizing at the same time that I cannot control the outcome, but I lay that down at the feet of the One who does. Worrying, however, doesn’t stop at the doing what I can; it does not leave the problem with God but takes it upon myself. Choosing not to worry does not reveal unconcern; it reveals the understanding that concerns belong in the hands of our capable Heavenly Father who commands us to rest in that truth.

Those two realizations that afternoon led to a tear-filled prayer that night on my knees before God. I made the choice to fight the fears, giving my husband, my children, and myself to God. I made the choice, for the first time since my husband’s cancer diagnosis, to take my hands off and give him to the Lord for His will to be done. Tears fill my eyes even now as I type this, for it is not an easy thing. But, dear sister, I never had control in the first place. It was all an illusion.

The worries and fears still come. But I have taken the first step. I have decided not to give them free reign. When a fear enters my mind, I fight it by praying, reciting Scripture, and setting my mind on things above (Col.3:1). I fill my mind with truths about God’s goodness and sovereignty. Complete victory will not happen overnight and it may always be a struggle on this earth, but it is worth the battle. Sisters in Christ, let us fight the fight of faith. And let us rejoice together and encourage one another with the truth that the future rests securely in the hands of One who loves our families far more than we do and who has promised a future day when all sickness and pain and sadness will be no more, and the battle against fear will be won.

--Amy O'Rear

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Men and Women with Antennae

            Many years ago in my college days as a speech major I was required to memorize a speech that someone else had given and give it as if it were my own.  The speech I chose was entitled “Men and Women with Antennae.”  It was given by Kenneth I. Brown, executive director of the Danforth Foundation at LeMoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee.  That speech so impressed me that I have kept a copy of it all these years.  I recently found it as I was going through my files and wanted to share part of it with you.  The thought is as apropos now as it was when it was first given decades ago.

            I am indebted to a friend for the phrase that I have used for the theme of this commencement address.  We happened to be together some months ago in a college situation far away from the continental limits of the USA.  Both of us had concern for the man who had recently come to the presidency of the college where we were visiting.
            As a new administrator, he was embarking bravely upon an ever difficult job.  We were there long enough to know that his efforts were praiseworthy, and that his direction was progressively sound.  As far as we could see, the future augured well: and yet the new man seemed to be stumbling.  There were comments spoken in an undertone, which were not complimentary.  Even when words praised, the speaker’s eyes did not underscore the praise.
            My friend and I learned that the new administrator was thoughtless, or said to be so, of those who had labored in the situation long years before his coming. Some faculty leaders whose counsel might have been useful he seemed purposely to ignore, and there were bruised feet, many bruised feet, where he had trodden without care.  One day in speaking together of the situation we were trying to analyze, my friend said these words:  “Good man, but a man without any antennae.”  The phrase has lingered in my mind,
            No man is an island.  He needs that sensitiveness to the incipient emotions and heart-longings of others if he is to live as a responsible member of the human race.  He needs a special competence in those media of communication which are more difficult than the spoken language—the troubled eye, the quivering mouth, the withheld presence.  Love is not alone the giving of self, even though that giving be generous and abundant.  Love is the giving of self to another’s need, and that need of the other can be learned, not from generalizations about mankind nor from textbooks on psychology, but through the sensitive outreach of a human spirit touching gently another human spirit.
            The man without any antennae is the man who never quite comes into contact with his fellow human beings.  He never sizes up the whole situation.
            There is something essentially tragic about the man who is unaware of the music in the air which he is not hearing, of the pictures in the air which he is not seeing.  There is something essentially tragic about the man whose armor of personality prevents the subtle delicate shafts of human understanding that come from another, from penetrating into his own mind and heart.
Perhaps education is a process of building within us, according to the latest models, antennae which allow us to move into direct contact with the spirit and the heat and the mind of another.  I suppose that comes through the multiple and varied experiences of learning and living and loving.  I am sure that it comes in part through the human outreach that through understanding and compassion touches those around us.
            There are lonely men and women in American life today—of all ages, and of skins of all hues.  And whether they be young or old, they are reaching out in their loneliness to those with antennae who can catch their distress signals of loneliness and will come to their relief.
            There is a need abroad today—stark, desperate, yawning, colossal need—some of it the physical need for bread, and some of it the mental need for intellectual understanding, and some of it the spiritual need for human friendship and divine forgiveness, a need for man, and for God.  And it will be men and women with this capacity for human outreach and deep compassion who will first be aware of the existence of such need, and recognizing it will take their part in satisfying such need.
            I can find no more important word to bring to you than the word:  Be men and women with antennae.

            Do you sense when someone is hurting, when someone is angry, when someone needs an ear, a hug, a word of encouragement? It appears to me that each of us as Christians should be described as someone with antennae.
            Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
            Be a woman with antennae!

                                                                        ~~Faith Himes Lamb

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Familiar Verse

All of us have Bible verses that, when we read them again, remind us of definite times in our lives when we needed that special encouragement. They are gifts that “keep on giving” over the years.

One of my verses that immediately comes to mind for me is:
I Peter 5:7: “Casting all your care upon Him for He careth for you.”

I absolutely loved being in college! From the time I was a little girl, my desires in life were to be “a wife, a mother, AND an English teacher.”  Never did I vary from those dreams and God allowed me to have all three joys. college at Temple, my challenge was working fulltime throughout the school year and every summer for Dr. David Dzik and not going home to Pennsylvania. Then I was trying to give my best to Dr. and Mrs. Banta, Miss Ruby Wagner, and Mrs. Jewell Martin...not to mention History of Civilization!!! Some of you will recognize those names. J

I needed a Bible promise to get me through. There it was...God said I could cast or throw all my cares or burdens on Him because HE CARES FOR ME. What a comfort! Over and over I went to this promise while in college and have in all the years since. You know that the word CASTING implies a continual movement. So that need of casting my cares on the Lord never stops.

Recently I was reading this verse and realized the importance of the surrounding verses.

In verse six, we are told to “humble ourselves” before a mighty God.  I would think that when we humble ourselves we are telling the “mighty God” that we are just too weak to do what we need to do. We have to cast ourselves on His strength. That doesn’t mean that He will do our work for us. No! We do our work but with His power enabling us.

In verse eight, we are told to be “sober, vigilant.” Why? The Devil is looking for a Christian to defeat. Of course, I believe that some of us blame the Devil for problems that we create for ourselves. Perhaps we have made wrong choices that have created huge difficulties for us.

Why should we be “sober and vigilant”? The word “sober” can imply that we need to be serious about the Enemy. Never forget that Satan is active. If we have accepted Christ as Savior, we don’t have to worry about the Devil taking our salvation, but we need to guard our actions, words, thoughts, and reputations that he doesn’t tempt us to spoil these.

The word “vigilant” can also mean “alert.”  Be alert to situations that might cause you to stumble...but also be alert to times you can encourage others to “cast all their cares on the Lord.” He has told us to do that because HE CARES FOR US. What a promise!!!

--Maylou Holladay

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Time Share

The same day this post goes live, Dan and I will be in Savannah, GA enduring a Time Share presentation. (Did I say that out loud?) Yes, I signed us up against my better judgment, because in a weak moment, the prizes seemed amazing. Since we have no intention of purchasing a Time Share, I needed a plan before going into a high-pressure sales pitch. Proverbs 8 tells me wisdom is accessible to those who seek her, so I began searching the internet (the source of all wisdom, right?) for ways to resist pushy sales people. Are you curious what I learned?
Here’s what is recommended from various sources:
As soon as you arrive, confirm the time limit and tell them you must leave at that time. Periodically check your watch.
Look bored and wear a stone face.
Beforehand, resolve with your partner to stand firm, be united, and not waver.
Do not ask questions or make small talk. This only encourages them.
Let them know upfront you are only there for the prizes, you will not be buying anything, and you will not change your mind.
Say this (repeatedly if necessary): “I don’t want to purchase this.” “No thanks.” “We’re not interested.”
Do not give them personal information. It will be used against you.
Try not to get yourself in this situation again. (my personal favorite)
I am doing my best to mentally prepare for this onslaught, but I have to ask myself, do I prepare for spiritual warfare as thoroughly? Do I really take it seriously? I work for a Christian ministry, and with maturity I have learned a couple of things: I don’t know as much as I think I do, and I’m in over my head. I must prepare before going into battle by spending time in prayer and seeking wisdom for difficult situations, first from Scripture, then from other reliable sources. And maybe even the internet.
Wish me luck!
 joyce hague

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Lessons from a Moss Garden

            Several years ago my daughters and I went to a workshop at Reflection Riding on making a moss garden.  That first experience intrigued me.  It appealed to my love of the whimsical and of all things miniature.  Since then I have made several moss gardens and regularly change them for the season.  Recently I was studying one of my gardens and realized there were several pictures for the Christian present in that one garden.  So here are my lessons from a moss garden.

The garden.  The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed…and put the man in the garden to tend and keep it.  Genesis 2:8,15

The lantern. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

The rocks.  The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  Psalm 18:2

He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.  Psalm 62:6

From the ends of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

The Tree.  His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also does not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.  Psalm 1:2,3

The bird.  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Matthew 6:26

The sheep.  Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us , and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  Psalm 100:3

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53:6

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  John 1:29

The bench.  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

The garden fairy.  May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.  Psalm 90:17

The tools. Night is coming when no one can work.  John 9:4

May the Lord remind us to watch carefully for the lessons He has put all around us in the little things.  May we not just see those lessons, but remember them and apply them.  Go look for your moss garden!