Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mission Week is Here!

I love Missions Conference week! There is nothing as encouraging as hearing how God is working all over the world, and it has already been so good to hear how He is using different people with a variety of personalities and giftings in other countries as well as our own. I treasure my own experiences in mission trips to various part of the US, Canada, Hungary, and India. Here are just a few of my favorite lessons:

1.    God’s orchestration of getting me to the mission field was perfect. One Sunday morning, I felt Him tell me that He wanted me to go on a mission trip, and that night, I ‘happened’ to talk to an acquaintance who was going on a mission trip that was right up my alley. Then, there was the matter of getting my parents to agree to a year-long mission trip that interrupted college – that was a miracle! The biggest faith builder for me was support raising. I came on to the team very late in March, and we had to raise $25,000 by August. I was the kid that didn’t like doing fundraisers partly because I was so shy and partly because I didn’t like imposing on people. But God was, as always, the perfect provider. I learned that He built this team of supporters to help send me, and that they were just as crucial to His great work. I loved seeing support come in from some truly random places like my dentist or a family that I had never met but that had previously gone to my church. Perhaps the most precious supporters were three kids from a family who were my adopted college family – they secretly saved money for me and then gave me about $15 in change – what a sweet sacrifice!
2.    “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” This is a great quote and so true. We may never feel worthy or ready for something God calls us to like missions, but that is exactly His plan. When we are weak, then He is strong and is most glorified. If you are nervous about something God is calling you to, don’t let that stop you. Step out in faith and watch God work!
3.    God does not need us, but He graciously uses us anyway! After spending a year in Hungary and investing in the lives of some teenagers, I felt strange going back home to finish college. I worried about what would happen to some of the girls I had witnessed to, but God quickly showed me that He was in control. Petra, one of the dearest girls I had grown close to, believed in Jesus within a few months after I left. God showed me that He is the one who does the work of salvation, but that we get the joy of partnering with Him and seeing Him accomplish it. Conversely, one of my teammates had been very nervous about leaving his dad who was alcoholic and had been suicidal, but amazingly, God helped his dad to get sober that year while we were gone. We are certainly important to the work of God, but I think we need reminding that He is the one in control.
4.    As Reba Bowman talked about Sunday evening, it can be easy to look at the need in some of these countries and feel overwhelmed, but that is just a reminder that our God is bigger than all the pain and difficulties in this world. He has us all in His hands, and I remember that was one of the most amazing lessons from traveling and doing missions. Our God is omniscient and omnipresent. He is working in every country to reach all peoples with His gospel, and while I would have said that was true, it was really brought to reality when I could see it and hear stories of what He was doing.

I hope that you will all go to as many events as you can during missions week, and that you will be equally inspired and encouraged in your walk of faith with the Lord. I also pray that our hearts will be open to any new step of faith He is calling each of us to, whether it is a ministry in the US or to another country!

Judith Graham

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rethinking Miracles

The well-loved children’s classic Charlotte’s Web opens with a young girl named Fern saving a little runt pig from being killed. At first she takes care of this pig whom she has named Wilbur, but then he gets too big and he has to move to her uncle’s barn. There in the barn a host of other animals live, and Fern spends much time there. Among these animals is Charlotte, a gentle and kind spider who weaves words into her web to save Wilbur from being slaughtered and turned into bacon. At one point in the book, Fern’s mother speaks to the family doctor about her concern for Fern, who claims to speak with animals, and about the appearance of words in the web.

“Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider’s web?” asked Mrs. Arable nervously.

“Yes,” replied the doctor.

“Well, do you understand it?” asked Mrs. Arable.
“Understand what?”

“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”

“Oh no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”

Our idea of miracles is that miracles are something that can’t be explained or observed regularly. We don’t consider a spider weaving a web a miracle, but why not? Have you looked at a web lately? Seen the intricacies in it? Have you wondered how that tiny spider has the ability to create that thread and weave it carefully so that even strong winds often do not tear it?  But because science can to an extent explain how it happens, we discount it as a miracle. We lose our wonder for the awesomeness in creation that points to its Creator.

I recently read a book in which the author Sarah Mackenzie tells about a time she took her children to the zoo. On this day they would see a walrus for the first time, and they eagerly settled themselves before the glass and waited for the walrus to appear. She just knew it would be a magical moment for her young kids. All of a sudden the walrus appeared, and her daughter cried out “Oh Mommy, look!” Sarah writes, “I turned to her in expectation, eager to watch her first impression of the walrus’s size and grace, but instead saw that she wasn’t looking through the glass at all. She was on her hands and knees, nose inches from the sidewalk and eyes open wide in amazement, watching an ant skitter across the ground as it carried a piece of food bigger than itself.”

Sarah writes that so often in life we miss the little miraculous moments because we’re waiting for the “walruses,” the big moments, to appear. But just as the spider weaving its web is a miracle, so the ant who carries food twice his size is a miracle. Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our sense of the wonder of those seemingly small moments.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss those “little” moments this week – the daily miracles that point to a Creator and His love for His creation. That I have breath to breathe when I wake up in the morning. The sunrise and sunset each day. The laughter of my children. The changing colors in the leaves outside. The balm of a soothing word spoken at the right time. The Word of God that I can hold in my hand. The ability to pray to the Lord of the universe.  And yes, the spider weaving his large web outside my kitchen window.

Oh Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom, you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104:24

--Amy O'Rear

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Adorning the Doctrine of God

I love the fall season, the weather, the colors associated with it, the decorations, the pumpkin coffee.  I put out my fall decorations last week.  Two scarecrows sit in chairs on the front porch, fall leaf garlands stretch across the front of the porch and around the door.  A squashed-looking pumpkin sits on a wire crate next to the front door. 
When you get inside the house, you can smell the pumpkin candle. Bowls overflow with pinecones and cinnamon sticks.  There are even tiny leaves and acorns and squirrels made from applesauce and cinnamon, hanging from the hackberry tree and above the kitchen sink.  My two favorites are the dried okra pods I spray-painted copper and the pumpkins I made last year from old sweaters and real pumpkin stems.
So I’m finally getting around to why I tell you all this.  As a retired teacher, I have not left my habit of looking things up, even when I think the dictionary may not tell me anything I don’t already know.  This time I looked up "decorate.”  The dictionary said “to furnish or adorn with something ornamental or becoming.”  This led to “adorn”:  “to decorate or add beauty to make more pleasing, attractive impressive.”  Eventually I got to “ornament—a person or thing that adds to the credit or glory of a society.”  I kept going, but I will have mercy on you and not insist that you go as far as I did.
That led me to a phrase of scripture.  Titus 2:10 says that we are to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.”  Look at the context.  Verses 7-10 say, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach. In order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. . .showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” So how do we adorn the doctrine of God? Our actions and character are our adornment. Just as you know what season it is by looking at my decorations, others should know our profession as Christians.  We are living in a period of history where actions or even alleged actions can cover the sound of our words. Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”  We must be above reproach in order to be an adornment.
Charles G. Finney, an evangelist of the early eighteenth century said in discussing this passage:  “A holy life will command the attention of the world, and they will inquire what this doctrine may be.  They are forced to exclaim—How beautiful their lives are! And how sweet their temper!  Who is this Savior whom they profess to follow, and to whose influence they attribute their peculiar spirit and life?  If this doctrine begets such a spirit and such a life, we ought to know it and ought to have it!”   
May we adorn the doctrine of God!  May we be His ornaments bringing glory to Him.

                                                                 ~~Faith Himes Lamb

Sunday, September 23, 2018

God's Love

A few years ago, when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with too many problems and not enough solutions, I wondered if God really loved me and cared about what I was going through. We perceive “care” in different ways from each other and maybe in different ways at different times, but it’s usually in the context of our cultural view of “caring” or “love,” which really should include, for true comfort, the element of “warm fuzzies.” I just wasn’t feeling either warmth or fuzziness from God at the time.

So I took a poll. That’s the American Way, isn’t it? I went to several of the spiritually mature ladies in our church and asked them how they perceive God’s love in their lives. One said He gives her what she needs. She did, indeed have all needs met. Another said He sends others to give her words of comfort. I observed to myself that this is a woman famous among us for giving words of comfort to others. These two summed up all the answers together – things, friends, words.

But I still didn’t feel warm in my then-current situation, and the only “fuzzy” was in the dryer filter.

Finally, in desperation, I asked what should have been the first question. What does God say? How does He perceive His love in our lives? I was a bit caught off guard by the answer(s), as were the people who asked questions of Jesus when He was here. He always gave a bigger answer than we were focused on with our little questions.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. I Jn 4:9

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. I Jn 4:10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— Eph. 2:4,5

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. I Jn 3:16

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:2

Hereby perceive we the love of God… Well, yes, I knew all those verses. Somehow they seem to get compartmentalized in our minds as “provision,” not particularly the warm fuzzy kind of “love.” But this is what God keeps saying over and over – this is His expression of love. The big picture is more important, by far, than all our smaller concerns. Could He love us any more than to provide for our eternal security and happiness by making for us a future with Him? And yes, He also cares about those other concerns, as Jesus told us in his remarks about lilies and sparrows. His love is so much more magnificent than what I thought I was looking for!

--Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Time for Practice!

"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." John 14: 2-3

Somewhere between this verse, any sermon I heard preached about Heaven, and Hollywood, I got the picture all of Heaven was a big cloud with a huge house where God lived in the middle of all the little white marble houses we would live in and the streets looked like the Wizard of Oz.  And honestly, that didn't make me want to long for Heaven.  I remember making deals with Jesus like, "Lord, if you could just wait 'til I got married to come back, that'd be great" or "Jesus, could you just wait 'til I had kids?" or "Could you wait until after [Insert any other big life event HERE] to come back and make the Earth new again?" Because Earth seemed pretty good as it was and the idea of flying around from cloud to cloud and singing all the time (even though I love to sing) seemed kind of...well, boring. 

You know what...that's not what Scripture says Heaven is about.  It may have been that "Angels in the Outfield," "Looney Tunes," or "It's a Wonderful Life" were more influential than I realized in my idea of Heaven being a blissful, haze of singing and sunshine.  A place where we won't have to go to work or clean the dishes or drive anywhere because we'll just fly.

Paul tells us in Colossians 3 since we have been raised with Christ we should think on things above and not things that are on the Earth.  He lists all of the things we should then "put off" and "put on:"

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self  with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
So if Paul is describing here what "the things above" are then the next verses are SUPER important to understanding this Earth and Heaven: 
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
What if how we live here on Earth is "practice" for how we will live in Heaven?  What if the things we do here (whatever they are) are the things we will do there?  We were created to work and cultivate because we were made in the image of our Creator.  Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve had purpose and responsibilities in the Garden.  Work is good for us to's when we confuse work with the toil brought on by the Fall that we start getting things mixed up.  There will be a new Heaven and a new Earth God is going to invite us to care for in our redeemed bodies.  The spiritual gifts and talents we have here are to be used to glorify God both here on our present Earth and our future in Heaven. How much more important is it then that we approach our work and even our daily mundane with a holy ambition to glorify our Creator? 
Our God is not a hazy zen-ed out God just sitting up on His throne.  He is a mighty warrior, a fierce protector, a kind father, an imaginative creator, a great healer, and deserves all the praise our every breath can utter.  Whether cooking dinner, teaching children in public, private, or homeschool, working as a roofer, a lawyer, a pastor, or a waiter, we are His children and we should be putting off the things of this world in preparation for our future in Heaven.  Whatever the good things are here on this Earth, they are but a shadow of the things to come. And it most certainly will not be boring. 
--Gabreille Haston

Monday, September 10, 2018

Numbering My Days

(This is me baring my soul.)

I've been reading slowly through the Psalms this summer--for a year, actually. Recently I sat in my back yard next to the blooming chives alive with bees and read Psalm 90. I find this psalm somewhat melancholy. Perhaps reading it in late summer intensifies the feeling of the brevity of life--the grass fading and flower withering. If I am promised seventy years--and that is the stated normal lifespan-- then I'm potentially in my last decade. My opportunities to watch the bees in the chives and the yellow butterflies on pink morning glories are quickly passing.

It's difficult for me to imagine I won't miss this when it's all over: the birds in the trees, late summer bugs chirring in the woods and fields, a blue jay's cry overhead. Somewhere a rooster crows, and soft summer sun falls through the branches of a maple on the back lawn.  I can hardly bear the beauty of it. 

Even as I grieve the passing of summer, the possibility for life and growth fading as the days get slowly darker, I am reminded to "sing for joy and be glad all [my] days" (14). Surely a God who can orchestrate such loveliness for a short season has an amazingly wonderful plan for eternity. His will for you and me is to love the life He has so graciously given. This, by God's grace, I will endeavor to do.

--Sherry Poff

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Living Forward

Sixteen years at Grace Baptist for Brant and me. What treasured friendships we have developed over those years! Our “learning curve” has been challenged and that is always excellent. We have been encouraged  to “make right choices,” to “stay in, stay close, stay away, stay alert,” to pray more diligently. We have enjoyed SO MUCH the times with teens, college and career, our greeters, and FRIENDS! 

Cincinnati, Ohio, is now the home of the Holladay Inn. We have already enjoyed a display of gorgeous photos by our granddaughter-in-law in a local art gallery. AND...a birthday party for our one-year-old great-grand OLIVER.  AND... a birthday dinner/going away for our seventeen-year-old granddaughter who will be starting her freshman year in college!  

ENOUGH of this “love stuff.” Right after we arrived in Cincinnati, I phoned my dear “treasure of a friend” Jessie Sandberg. During our chat, she stated that she and Don are trying to “live forward.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought? An encouraging idea?  

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. In chapter 7 verse 10: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” Or course, we also know that verses like Deuteronomy 8:2 state: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee...”

So is this a contradiction? To “live forward”? Someone has said that God doesn’t waste our experiences. Those experiences from our past should cause us to look to the future, to “live forward” trusting the Lord to use what we have already learned to aid us in our future endeavors.

God’s Word to us from Isaiah 43:18:
“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. 19a Behold, I will do a new thing...”

Let’s ask God to do a new thing in our lives, something that will challenge our faith and make us a more vibrant testimony for Him in the days ahead.

A friend of ours who had gone through a very difficult experience stated that “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

LIVE FORWARD. (Thank you, Jessie, for giving me this thought.)

--Maylou Holladay