Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Call for Dependence

            We are a nation that values independence. After all, our nation’s founding rested on a desire for it. We were a people under unjust rule by England and wanted to be free to govern ourselves. We wanted independence. So, when many of us today hear the word independence, we think of the American flag, the pledge of Allegiance, July 4 parades and barbecues, and a general pride in being an independent nation.
            I have been thinking the last few days about how that emphasis on independence has impacted us as a people, even as individuals within this nation. We see a focus on self and self’s desires above all. The slogans of today are You be you! Do what makes you happy! Create your own destiny! Be yourself! In other words, don’t let anyone else tell you what to do or how to live. We don’t just want independence as a nation or independence from unjust rulers, we want independence from everyone. Listen to these words from the iconic song from the Disney hit Frozen, “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right. No wrong. No rules for me. I’m free.” Isn’t that the cry of the people today as we move away from any sense of abstract truth, the truth outside of ourselves that doesn’t change based on our desires to live as we please? Everything in our culture is being redefined as man seeks to not be bound to any law that goes against his desires. Perhaps in America we value our own autonomy more than in other cultures.
            Yet surely we Christians know better, right? We understand that we are to follow God and that His truths are unchanging. Oh, but isn’t there still a bit of a rebel in each of us, a desire for no one to tell us what to do? We don’t want others to point out the sins they see in us that we may be blind to. We chafe against following government rule when it doesn’t make sense to us or when we fear it is taking away our ‘freedoms.’ We don’t want to serve when it’s inconvenient on our time and resources. We understand that we must watch our mouths, but on social media, we feel we can type or forward the most vitriolic comments – after all, aren’t we a nation of free speech? In our desire for independence, we strive to control our own lives, to make them turn out the way we want them to, and we can even grow angry when things don’t go our way. For independence doesn’t work; following our desires and doing things our way will not keep us happy, successful, and healthy. It does not bring life.
            Sisters in Christ, there is a better way. It is the road of Dependence. Yoking myself to the One who is my Master, not an unjust taskmaster, but a Master nonetheless who demands my very life (Matt. 10:39). Who takes away my perceived independence and binds me to Himself as His servant. And this yoke, He promises, is lighter than the yoke of the life that fights for her independence (Matt. 11:27-28). This is a yoke, a dependence, that leads to true life. However, it requires the greatest cost: sacrificing our own desires so we may live a holy and acceptable life to God, allowing Him to transform every aspect of our lives, from laying down the rights we feel we deserve to not using our freedom of speech in this country to slander those we don’t agree with (Rom. 12:1-2). It includes thinking of what is best for others before ourselves (Phil. 2:3-7), and in all things obeying Him over our desires (I Peter 1:13-16).
            Interestingly enough, God would not have us be dependent only on Him, though He is obviously our greatest source of dependence. He also created us to need one another in the body of Christ. As a matter of fact, the body functions rightly only when everyone does his or her part (I Cor. 12:12-27). I need you, my family in Christ, to encourage me in the faith, pray for me, and confront me if you see sin I’m not dealing with. I, in turn, need to serve you as well with the time and resources God gives me. We in the church are dependent on one another and cannot choose to live selfishly.
This life is not about me and my rights.  And on this Fourth of July, our nation’s Day of Independence (for this is when I am typing this), I will boldly declare that I am not independent and will fight against the desire to be so. Today, I declare my Dependence.

--Amy O'Rear

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Real Chinwag

            Last week I texted a friend that we needed a good chinwag.  I know that’s an archaic term, but I meant we needed a nice long talk to catch up on what is going on in our lives.  Social distancing and isolation has robbed us of time with our friends, of connecting.
            After I used that term, I thought I had better check.  What if it had a negative connotation I was unaware of?  So here’s the dictionary definition:  an idle chat, gossip.  I didn’t mean gossip.  So I looked at the thesaurus—confab, gabfest, conversation or discussion, long conversation.  Now we’re looking at more what I meant.
            I decided to go back to that word in the first definition—gossip.  Here’s that definition—idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.  I think that the connotation of that word is negative. What I wanted to do with my friend was simply catch up with her life and share what was going on in my life.  I don’t think it is wrong to also share what is happening in the lives of my friends and family.  I don’t think that is gossip.  But how easy it is to slip from sharing information into making judgments, turning ugly.
            In the NASB the word gossip is often preceded by the word malicious—malicious gossip. In I Timothy there is a description of gossips and busybodies talking about things not proper to mention. James 4:11 says “Do not speak against one another.”  This suddenly looks as if it could turn into a rant against gossip and the Lord knows we need that in a season of social media dominance, but that’s not what this is meant to be.  Instead, it’s a reminder that we need each other and we need each other’s encouragement. 
            Ephesians 4:29 (NASB) says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” The same verse in the International Children’s Bible says, “When you talk, do not say harmful things.  But say what people need—words that will help others become stronger.  Then what you say will help those who listen to you.”
            So let’s have a good old chinwag of words that will help others become stronger. Give grace to those who hear. Anyone?

                                                                        ~~Faith Himes Lamb

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trust and Obey

These last couple of months have been some of the most interesting months of my life and, I venture to guess, yours, too. Not only has there been a pandemic to hit our whole world, and an EF4 tornado to devastate our church, school, and the surrounding neighborhoods--maybe even your own home--but there also seems to have been an unusual amount of death in our congregation and their families! I have asked myself over and over, Is this a dream? Every time I drive on campus to go to the office building--mind you, this is not a functioning office space by any means--I get a pit in my stomach. And, once again, I begin to think, This didn’t really happen, did it? Well, of course it did! I have eyes that can see! I know it did!
Through all of this, the Lord has been teaching and reaffirming to me His truths. My daily Bible reading, Pastor’s messages, and a book that I just finished all seem to be showing me very similar truths. In my daily Bible reading, I have been in the Old Testament from Jeremiah now all the way through the Minor Prophets. Through the Prophets, God is constantly asking for repentance and obedience. What I have learned most recently is that God demands our obedience. When we obey, we must trust God and this leads to faith. For instance: Jonah originally chose not to obey God; therefore, he denied himself the privilege of trusting in God. He knew the people of Nineveh would repent, and Jonah did not want to have faith or believe that regardless of his opinion about Nineveh, God knew best. Jonah wanted to be the judge of the fate of the residents of Nineveh. Of course, eventually after God got his attention, Jonah did go to Nineveh and they did repent. Jonah was not happy about that either. He did not think the wicked people of Nineveh deserved the opportunity of salvation. Not Jonah’s decision! What Jonah did not know is that 150 years later, Nineveh would be destroyed by the Babylonians. Lesson 1: Trust God even when it seems to make no sense.
Yesterday, I finished reading a book entitled The Insanity of God. This book is written by Dr. Nik Ripken who spent 25 years as a missionary in some of the most difficult places in the world--places where persecution was a way of life for most believers. The last 15 years he and his wife traveled, gathering data from interviews with believers in areas of the world where persecution of Christians was the normal. And, while the stories of those believers are incredible, it was Dr. Ripken’s insight that got my attention. He looked at things differently--or maybe the way I believe they should be looked at, but I could never quite put it into words. Things like reasons to risk your life or go to prison should not be that you took unnecessary chances that really didn’t advance the spread of the gospel, but should be that you were doing what was necessary to spread the gospel. Currently, I am not too concerned with going to prison because of my faith, but in this same vein it was pointed out that God does not ignore the consequences of our personal choices. We should not be cavalier and take risks assuming God will protect us. It might work out just fine, but what if it does not? Is that God’s fault? He expects us to make wise choices, which leads back to obeying, trusting, and growing our faith. Lesson 2: Do not expect God to excuse and dismiss consequences of the bad choices we make.
Growing our faith, isn’t that what Pastor Adam has been talking about? In the Sunday morning services, we have been working through Hebrews 11 and recently thinking about Abraham. Abraham was certainly obedient and did what God asked, and as he did, trust grew and his faith became stronger. I think of Abraham taking that journey with Isaac. Did Abraham really believe that God was going to demand Isaac as the sacrifice or was this a test of Abraham’s faith? In some ways I think that the answer was yes and yes. Abraham obeyed and did what was asked and God provided. As he obeyed, he was trusting God for what was best.  Lesson #3 for me is that everything we do in obedience to God will help grow our faith. It might not be easy, in fact, it will probably not be easy, but then the Christian life was never meant to be easy. 
See how all this seems to come together? How three different resources all seem to point in a similar direction? Obedience, trust, and faith . . . the more we listen to and obey God, the more opportunities we have to trust him, and the more we trust, the stronger our faith becomes. This was not some new revelation to me, but it was and has been a comforting reminder of God and His faithfulness. So regardless of our circumstances, God is good, but He does demand our obedience, and when we obey we are rewarded with a peace that comes from trusting Him and  knowing our faith is not in vain. 

Pam Dratnol

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Brush With Jesus

I once read a story about a lady who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail which is 2,653 miles long. Life had laid many losses on her back, and she tucked those hurts into her pack and carried them into the woods. She faced many challenges along the way which made her want to quit, but she didn’t. When she emerged from the woods, she had healed a lot emotionally. From all appearances, this lady did not know the Lord, but being in nature had had a restorative effect on her. It reminded me of the woman in the Bible who had faith that to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment would heal her.  Afterall, God’s fingerprints are all over nature, and anyone spending much time there might feel as though they had brushed against Jesus.

I feel it when I’m there. Being in nature is a worshipful experience for me (of God, not nature), and those who know me, know I cannot get enough of being outdoors. I look around in wonder and marvel at all that God has created, the incredible detail, variety, and beauty. I love the warmth of the sun on my back and a breeze tickling my skin and lifting my hair. I inhale the fresh air slowly and deeply. My heart responds with thankfulness and begins to hum a song of praise. It is a place to notice some of God’s handiwork.

I hate it when I have worked hard at something and no one notices or appreciates the outcome. Don’t you? I wonder if God feels that way when I cry out, “Let me see Your hand at work! Give me a sign You’re still there!” (I guess my faith is sometimes weak.) Recently, God took me to Psalm 65 to show me His work.  Here I found words that describe God’s actions: atone, answer, establish, silence, make, visit, prepare, soften, crown. Then there were other words and phrases that further described His activities: hope, salvation, satisfying, awe-inspiring works, enriching, providing, soaking, overflow, robed, clothed, covered – rich words.

God works quietly, but He is busy! It is our place to notice! He works for the good of humanity and all the earth, but also for us personally.

Verses 1-2, “Praise is rightfully Yours, God, in Zion; vows to You will be fulfilled.  All humanity will come to You, the One who hears prayer.” (HCSB)

We are literally dependent on Him for our every need. He is busy holding the world together, and I want to ask Him for a sign? Seriously? I just need a trip to the woods - and to the Word.

joyce hague

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Be Busy in Me, LORD

One of my all-time favorite novels to read and to teach is A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

WHEW!  In many ways, the last few weeks have that same contradictions of feelings and reactions. Because of the virus, some of us have been glad to have time at home to spend with children or to complete overdue projects or to communicate with family or friends on Zoom or FaceTime. Maybe you have done an in-depth Bible study that interested you for a long time.

But...perhaps you were of the group who had the feelings of total “incredulity” that so much of America could come to a stop so quickly. You might feel despair because of lost work, or a lost business, or illness. Some of us are frustrated because of “needless” restrictions that are “one size fits all.”

And then the tornadoes! Loss of so much ...unbelievable! GBC and GBA swept away in minutes. Neighborhoods devastated.  Then unjustifiable death and national unrest on top of it all!

Recently I heard a pastor pray: “BE BUSY IN ME, LORD, during this time.” On Christian radio I heard the word “clarifying.”  These upside down days should clarify where I stand in my faith. Put these last few weeks in perspective with our Almighty Heavenly Father. Psalm 121:2: “My help is from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.”         

What does the Holy Spirit need to stir in us, to be busy in us? Do we need to remember basic truths? Isaiah 53:6a: “ALL we like sheep have gone astray. There is no exception. We are ALL SINNERS.

But God does not leave us there...Isaiah 53:6b: “...and the LORD has laid on HIM (JESUS) the iniquity of us ALL.”

Remember Who this Jesus is. Isaiah 53:3: “despised” “rejected” “A Man of Sorrows” “acquainted with grief.” But He not only knew His own grief, (vs. 4) HE BORE ALL OF OUR GRIEF AND OUR SORROWS...even the virus, tornadoes, death! Amazing Savior!  If you do not know Him, this is the perfect time to see Jesus is ready to forgive your sins and save you. You need Him as a solid, unchangeable, truthful foundation for chaotic times.

BE BUSY IN ME, LORD. As we have been “sheltered in,” “locked down,” “staying at home,” this can lead to thinking only of ourselves. We can be content to just “stay in.” Venturing out might be “harmful.” I think we have to be concerned that we might have lost some of our OUTWARD FOCUS. We must remember our family members who still need the Lord; our neighbors who need encouragement. Then further outward...

BE BUSY IN ME, LORD, AND HELP ME TO REMEMBER the persecuted Church. We think it is sad to miss a few weeks with our brothers and sisters at our churches. The persecuted Church (to quote Brother Andrew’s secretary) “does not just go from 9 to 5.”  They are under danger of losing their lives moment by moment. Our chaos in America will subside and the rebuilding of GBC and GBA will begin.  Pray for our brothers and sisters who see no end to their distress.

One more thing...our Eurasia Bible Ministry with BIMI has given out about 2 million Bibles over several years in almost 30 different languages in places like Russia and Eastern Europe and Asia. Pray for those Bibles...possibly just sitting on a shelf in homes that need Jesus.  Pray that people will pick them up and read of God’s love for them.

Dear Lord, please be busy in me. Stir me up to do Your will and to make a difference in this world.

--Maylou Holladay

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Tears of Comfort

A few days after the Easter tornado, I went to visit a friend who had suffered a great loss of property. As I drove along Jenkins Road, I got “lost.” I didn’t know where I was; all the landmarks – trees, street signs, buildings -- were gone or distorted. I couldn’t find my friend’s house. I saw the destruction of our church and school, which I had seen in photos. When I finally got to my friend’s house and knocked on her door, tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t stop them. I thought, “She doesn’t need this, my crying; she has her own troubles without my adding to them.” Maybe I was wrong. After she showed me the damage and loss and told her story, as I was leaving, she startled me by saying, “Thank you for crying for me.”

Well, I hadn’t meant to. I had intended to encourage her, but not by being discouraged. Yet, my distress showed her that I entered into her sorrow. We shared the pain.
God’s Word tells us that we can comfort others after we have needed and experienced His comfort.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Cor 1:3,4.

 In this Scripture, the writer is talking about suffering for the cause of Christ, but note the words, “all our tribulation,” and “who are in any trouble.”  Possibly there is a principle applying to many situations. God is the “God of all comfort.” He acknowledges our sorrows, He sees our tears, and He wants us to turn to Him for comfort. After that, we can see others’ sorrows, accept their tears, and give them a safe place to turn for comfort.

Often when I am dealing with stress or pain, I think, “I don’t need this.” But maybe I do, according to God, so I can empathize with (comfort) others.

Romans 12, in instructing us with many ways to show love, includes the command to weep (or mourn) with those who weep (or mourn). We aren’t told to recite Scriptures, share encouraging anecdotes or (worst of all) tell them to “forget it.” We are told to mourn right along with them. That would mean actually participating in sorrow. That may be hard. We don’t want any more sorrow, especially other people’s sorrow. We have enough of our own. But just that – enough of our own – is what enables us to participate compassionately with others.

Many of us have shed tears over the many kinds of losses that came with the tornado. And many among us are shedding tears over other kinds of losses and heartaches.
When we are hurting, our first remedy is to turn to the Lord. When others are hurting, our first remedy is to turn to the Lord. Then it’s OK to be hurt along with them.

Comforting another isn’t as simple as disposing of their pain. Usually we don’t have that power. But we do have the power to be hurt, ourselves. Evidently, that can be a Godly thing, if we turn to Him for comfort. Let’s ask God to help us use our pain as He instructs us.

--Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, May 24, 2020

How Genesis Challenged Me

I finished a study of Genesis 12-50 today. You know these stories; I knew them before doing this study as well. As a matter of fact, during my years of teaching fifth grade at Grace Academy, I taught through Genesis during the first quarter of every school year (of course there were a few stories I left out). In these thirty-nine chapters are the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Tamar, Dinah, and Joseph along with his eleven brothers.
At the end of the final session that I listened to today, the teacher (Jen Wilkin) had us turn to Hebrews 11, the great hall of faith. A large part of this chapter is devoted to this Genesis clan, from Abraham to Joseph (verses 8-22). After studying their lives over ten weeks, reading this commentary in Hebrews brought tears. Men and women (Sarah is mentioned too) who lived over 1500 years prior to this writing are spoken of as examples of faith whose trust was in their God, who did not see the promises fulfilled in their lifetimes (verse 13), and of whom the world was not worthy (38). Then this chapter ends with the following verses: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (39-40).
We see God’s redemptive plan as we look back over Scripture from this side of the cross. They did not:
-- Though Abraham received the promise of a nation through whom all other nations would be blessed, he did not know that God’s own Son would come from his bloodline to save the world.
-- The day that Abraham took the knife to slay his son and a voice stopped him and God provided a ram, he didn’t know that what he had been rescued from, God Himself would one day do, sending His Son to die on a mountain top.
-- When Jacob had to flee his home and dreamed one night about a ladder going from earth to heaven, he understood that God was in that place, but he did not understand that God would send a descendent who Himself would be that ladder, the bridge between God and man (John 1:51).
-- After hoping for years to gain her husband’s love and that desire being reflected in the names of her first three boys, Leah didn’t know that when she named her fourth son Judah, saying “This time I will praise the Lord” (Gen. 29:35), that God had chosen her, the unloved wife, and this son to be in the line of Christ.
-- When Judah was a grown man and offered himself as servant to a ruler in Egypt in place of his brother Benjamin who it seemed had stolen a valuable cup, he didn’t know that he was foreshadowing a descendent who would offer his life for the guilty.
-- When Joseph stated in Genesis 50 that what man intended for evil, God intended for good to save many people through his providing bread for them in the years of famine, he had no way of knowing that his life was showing in many small ways the life of a much greater One who would be put to death on a cross, and that God would intend that evil act for good to provide the world with living bread that would save the souls of men.
            The stories of these men and women are remarkable in themselves, but until they are looked at from this side of the cross, they cannot be fully understood. These people did not see the redemptive purposes that God was working; they simply believed His promises, and it is that faith that was counted for them as righteousness. We now have the privilege of looking back and seeing their lives in light of the big picture. This is the ‘better’ that God has for us that is mentioned in Hebrews 11:39. We have seen God’s redemptive plan unfold and the promise of the Messiah come true. We will be made perfect along with these saints of old when Christ returns and sets all things right.
            So what does this mean for us now? Perhaps that’s the question that the author of Hebrews sought to answer as he wrote the very next sentence. (There were no chapter divisions when this letter was first written.) “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [the ones he just listed out in chapter 11], let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is marked out for us, looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Whether or not these saints of old are witnesses in the sense that they see what we are doing now on this earth, they are certainly witnesses to the fact that God keeps His promises, that He is worth following, and that even when we don’t understand what He’s doing, we trust that He knows what He is about and will work all things for good.
So, Sister in Christ, as we stand here in our spot in the redemptive story line of God’s work in the world,  let us trust that the God who spoke to and led these men and women of old is the same God Who seeks a relationship with us and Who wants us to live the lives marked out for us with endurance and with our eyes fixed on Christ. May this understanding of how God worked in the lives of those who have gone before us even when they didn’t understand it or see the big picture spur us on to trust Him with our lives as well, especially in uncertain times. And one day, may our commendation by those who follow after us be the same: that we too were women of faith (Hebrews 11:3).

--Amy O'Rear