Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sin Nature--It's so Adorable

Our baby grandson loves to come to our house. He comes in smiling, we hug him and love him as he smiles at us, we put him on the floor and he smiles as he races on all fours to his favorite toys – the electric cords, the fire extinguisher, and the toilet. Of course, he wants to put his mouth on them, and, especially the electric cords, bite them with his two teeth. He already knows we do not want him to play with those things. We give him colorful, fun things that make noise and roll around and are fun to bite. But, no, he insists on going for those things we don’t want him to have.

People say the sin nature shows up early. But he’s so cute! We can’t be mad at him. And he’s so young! It can’t be too bad (yet).

Unfortunately, we may continue to have such a casual attitude toward our own sins, as adults. But it’s so ____________ (fun, harmless, fashionable – fill in the blank). And we’re so _____________ (innocent, not as bad as others, in special circumstances – fill in the blank).

How do our favorite sins, or even the ones that bother us but we keep them, fit in with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience”? II Cor. 10:5,6.

Every thought? Thoughts can’t be that bad. But God’s Word says, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." Luke 6:45

Every disobedience? Ouch.

My husband was once talking to a co-worker who told him, “Yes, I know it’s a sin, but I’m not going to give it up.” At least she was honest. But we don’t want to be that honest. We want to excuse ourselves, as we excuse our baby. (Our excusing does not necessarily apply to other people, unless they are harboring the same sins we enjoy.)

Let’s be honest – for our eternal good. God says, of sin, “for the end of those things is death.” Romans 6:21 That’s not adorable. It’s not fun. And it’s not for our good. It’s like biting the electric cords, just because it’s fun.

We try to protect our little children from the serious consequences of poor choices. So does God. He tells us what to avoid and He gives us all good things. Don’t be a baby.

--Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, December 3, 2017

We Stand Forgiven

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross

Not too long ago, we sang this song on a Sunday morning, and in memory I returned to childhood when my mother caught me in a lie. I recall that I hid in my playhouse hoping she wouldn't know where I was, but she sought me out and discussed the importance of telling the truth. My mother was gentle, trying to understand why I told the lie, but I recall the "awesome weight of sin" that this song refers to. I felt terrible, wishing I could take back the hurtful words but knowing I couldn't.

Though that childish transgression seems insignificant all these years later, it stands as a time when I knew I was a sinner and understood my need for forgiveness. There are other incidents too painful to recall or mention, but maybe you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you have some weighty memories of your own.

I am so grateful that God forgives, that Jesus was willing to take the blame and bear the wrath so I could "stand forgiven." But I'm not the only one who needs forgiveness. Jesus bore the weight of the whole world's sin. When we consider some of the awful things we've heard, this truth seems too much to imagine.

But let's bring the truth home and determine to be kinder and gentler with those who need the mercy and love of God. As we revel in our own good standing with God, we should pray for others who haven't found it yet--others including the tiresome and the trying, the profane and the cruel. These are people who carry a terrible burden that Jesus longs to lift from their shoulders.

This Christmas season, remember the cross that Jesus came to. Don't let his sacrifice go unappreciated.

 --Sherry Poff

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Year of Lessons

November always gets me thinking about gratefulness and nostalgia over the past year. Sometimes those feelings get stronger over the next month heading into January where we flip the final page on the chapter of a year and move on into the next...but, those stirrings are hitting me pretty hard already at the end of November this year. 

In recent years I have chosen a "word of the year" to kind of set the stage for the upcoming trip around the sun. It was "Inspire" when I felt I had been keeping my head down to the ground and not looking up for inspiration from what God was doing around me.  It was "Intentional" when I learned I shouldn't just go through life reacting to whatever came my way, but to be purposeful in setting goals and making my days filled with proactive rather than reactive words and deeds. 

I didn't choose a word of the year for this year because in December 2016 I was struggling through a bit of depression barely functioning through the holidays I usually enjoy with all the enthusiasm of Buddy the Elf, but I felt more like Scrooge. I had literally worked myself into a frenzy. Concerts, rehearsals, events, school responsibilities, meetings, day after day after day.  In the middle of that , I was headed into the second trimester with my pregnancy and we had a scary midnight trip to the emergency room when I thought we were losing our baby.  I had gone more than two months without taking time to read a book, get coffee with friends, go on a date night with my husband, and a much less than adequate time reading my Bible or praying.  January came with compulsion to do something to change this path. I didn't want to start 2017 the way I ended 2016. 

So, even though I didn't choose a word in December/January to describe this year, as I look back on it, I think my word of 2017 would be Selah. It's the year she arrived.  It's the year God taught me about taking a Sabbath margin in my life. It's the year He taught me about seeking and creating community. It's the year God taught me about how to live entrusted with the gospel, His gifting and calling. It's the year He taught me about making my work purpose-filled for the gospel.  God taught me to breathe this year and that in the sound of my breath I could glorify him in my work, my sabbath and my Selah.

I don't know what word He will have for me in 2018, but as I look back on 2017, I want to praise Him for all He has taught me and brought me through this year. I would like to think at thirty-two, married with two kids, and as a tenured choral director I would have this whole "adulting" thing down. But, what I'm finding out is there is always another lesson to learn in the next chapter. 

--Gabrielle Haston

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reeds and Flax

 FIRST OF ALL...Happy birthday to my dear Brant! Anyone who knows him has heard these words: “Don’t forget November 19th is my birthday.”J

Now let’s get to the thought for the day....

ISAIAH 42:3 - “A bruised reed will He not break, and the smoking (dimly burning) flax will He not quench (snuff out).”

We recently heard a pastor quote this scripture from Isaiah 42:3. It was not the main focus of his message but he made the comment that “reeds are used to make music.” That interesting verse has caught my attention and I have been meditating on it a bit.

First of all, Webster’s definitions:

               Reed: A tall, slender grass. It can be used for thatching, basket work, musical instruments,  a loom part, an arrow, or an ancient Hebrew measuring unit.

 Flax: A slender, erect plant with delicate blue flowers. Its seeds can be used to make linseed oil or can be eaten; its fiber is spun into linen thread.

People can be “a bruised reeds” or "dimly burning flax.” But they can be whole again...they can be useful again for the Lord. They can “make music” and “burn brightly” again.

Brant and I go to the Chattanooga Rescue Mission every few weeks where I give the devotion for the ladies who come in for the night. Their favorite song to sing???  It is, week after week, “Victory In Jesus.” That tells us somewhere in their past lives these women have possibly been like “flax with delicate blue flowers” or “a reed to make a beautiful basket or music.” They have made wrong choices that have taken their lives in very bad directions. BUT some of the ladies have chosen to listen to wise counsel and, even though they are “bruised and dimly shining,” their lives have become profitable again.

We remind them of that wonderful promise in Psalm 103:10...”He does not treat us as our sins deserve...” God’s mercy is always there.

If you have not found the shop on the Northshore called “Renew All Things,” look it up or check out their website. It is located off the lower shopping area below Frazier Avenue. This is a local ministry rescuing women who were “bruised reeds and dimly burning flax.” They are now making lovely gifts to sell and telling their stories of how God has rescued them right here off the streets of Chattanooga through others who have given for this ministry.

As the holiday season comes, perhaps you will be with a family member or friend who needs to be reminded that a “bruised reed” is NOT a “broken reed” and can make music again. A “dimly burning flax” has NOT been “snuffed out.” Be “a Job” as in Job 4:4 - “Your words have supported those who have stumbled...” God’s love will be the best encouragement you can give along with hugs.

--Maylou Holladay 

Saturday, November 11, 2017


When I drive to the children’s home where I work, I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of serving abused and neglected children. Their problems and their families’ problems seem insurmountable. I pray for strength, wisdom, and insight. The job is bigger than I am, and the enemy relentlessly attacks me with doubt and insecurity.

But then, God reminds me of Moses (and others). God called Moses to influence Pharoah to do something he did not want to do and to convince over a million people to follow him into the unknown. Potential danger filled this assignment, and he would be rewarded with humiliation if he failed.

Poor Moses was scared! He made excuses and asked God to choose someone else. This made God mad for He had invested a lot into Moses’ preparation. God had arranged for Moses to be reared in Pharoah’s palace where he would be educated and learn Egyptian customs. He may have learned administration skills while there too. Yet, his formative years remained secure with his own parents. He knew who he was. Then, God took him into the desert for forty years to learn about shepherding dumb sheep (this no doubt would be invaluable – haha!).

Moses did not realize how God had prepared him or maybe he would have been more confident – or not. The job remained big and scary! But God promised to go with him and empower him. He sent someone with skin on – Aaron – so he would not go alone. God does the same for us. If He has called us, He will prepare and empower us. We must lean into Him and not become too dependent on ourselves. He’s the One with the wisdom and strength and knowledge. After all, He IS the great I AM!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

We Love our Little Treasures

           I would like to share with you a sweet story by an unknown author that presents a powerful truth. I will summarize the first part. A little girl named Jenny finds delight in some dime store pearls. She works extra hard to earn the money to buy them…

How Jenny loved those pearls. She wore them everywhere--to kindergarten, to bed, and when she went out with her mother to run errands. The only time she didn't wear them was in the shower; her mother had told her that they would turn her neck green! Now Jenny had a very loving daddy. When Jenny went to bed, he would get up from his favorite chair every night and read Jenny her favorite story. One night when he finished the story, he said, "Jenny, do you love me?" "Oh yes, Daddy, you know I love you," the little girl said. "Well, then, give me your pearls." "Oh! Daddy, not my pearls!" Jenny said. "But you can have Rosie, my favorite doll. Remember her? You gave her to me last year for my birthday. And you can have her tea party outfit, too. Okay?" "Oh no, darling, that's okay." Her father brushed her cheek with a kiss. "Good night, little one." A week later, her father once again asked Jenny after her story, "Do you love me?" "Oh yes, Daddy, you know I love you." "Well, then, give me your pearls." "Oh, Daddy, not my pearls! But you can have Ribbons, my toy horse. Do you remember her? She's my favorite. Her hair is so soft, and you can play with it and braid it and everything. You can have Ribbons if you want her, Daddy," the little girl said to her father. "No, that's okay," her father said and brushed her cheek again with a kiss. "God bless you, little one. Sweet dreams." Several days later, when Jenny's father came in to read her a story, Jenny was sitting on her bed and her lip was trembling. "Here, Daddy," she said, and held out her hand. She opened it and her beloved pearl necklace was inside. She let it slip into her father's hand. With one hand her father held the plastic pearls and with the other he pulled out of his pocket a blue velvet box. Inside of the box were real, genuine, beautiful pearls. He had them all along. He was waiting for Jenny to give up the cheap stuff so he could give her the real thing. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He is waiting for us to give up the cheap things in our lives so that he can give us beautiful treasure. Are you holding onto things which the Lord wants you to let go of? Are you holding on to harmful or unnecessary partners, relationships, habits and activities which you have become so attached to that it seems impossible to let go? Sometimes, it is so hard to see what is in the other hand but do believe this one thing.... The Lord will never take away something without giving you something better in its place.            Amen! How true it is that God will always give us something better because His gifts are eternal and fulfilling, whereas our worldly treasures are momentary and only briefly satisfying. I do want to be careful with that statement and make sure we don’t take it to a prosperity gospel extent, like if I give up my Honda, God is going to give me a Ferrari!

 But most of us, if we stop to evaluate honestly, have these cheap, worldly treasures that we cling to for comfort. We might call them coping mechanisms, hobbies, passions, comfort food, shopping therapy, achieving success, or…idols (ouch!). Idols do not have to be naturally bad things, but can simply be good things that we use in an unhealthy way. Here are a few measures I use to identify idols: anything that you turn to before God or more than God, something that is difficult to go a whole day without, a way that of trying to control life, or anything consumes your thoughts frequently. 

Various idols do look different. For instance, food is a delightful gift God has given us to enjoy, but when our day revolves around what we can eat next that will bring us joy/pleasure/comfort, it sounds like an idol. You shouldn’t go a day without eating, but need to deal with being consumed by it constantly. Then again, with eating disorders/control, it can be just as consuming to constantly think about not eating or how to eat as little as possible.

God has revealed to me ways that I have been coping that have recently become unhealthy and (ooh, I hate to say this) idolatrous. I know that I have throughout my life enjoyed comfort food, escaping to books or TV, and occasional retail therapy. In a small measure, sometimes these things can be useful (though not always most productive) to brighten a tough day or set my heart on a lighter note. But since the miscarriages, it slowly has gotten worse until I finally realized that I am leaning on these methods of comfort or pleasure as a way of coping INSTEAD of turning to God. It is embarrassing (which is just pride), and it is heart-breaking to know that I have substituted the truth and everlasting comfort of God for such paltry things. It is also frustrating that my flesh fights to live the way I want to live and keep my petty joys when God is waiting (lovingly and patiently) for me to trade in these things that do not really satisfy for His abundant, eternal gifts. I am taking the Walking Worthy class, and it is one major way the Lord and I are dealing with these issues.

My dear sister, what consumes you? What beautiful but temporary thing of this world brings you comfort, joy, or peace for a moment, but then you have to turn to it again or to something else to try to continue that comfort? What do you turn to instead of God? How do you ‘cope’ when life is tough? What is the thing that if you don’t get to do it every day or a certain number of times a week, that it really frustrates you? The truth is that most of us have some idols, even if they are fairly well contained. Perhaps you are going through a great spiritual time right now and this is not a great issue – Fantastic! But keep checking your heart because idols creep in all too easily. And perhaps you can be a resource of compassion, strength, and help to a sister who is currently struggling.

For those of us convicted that we hold some things in this world a little too closely, let us turn to God and offer these unfulfilling things back to Him. Let us meditate on the truth of His word – find Scripture that speaks to your situation or to the general heart condition beneath your coping. Find safe people who love and accept you to talk to, confess your struggles, and get some encouragement, accountability, and potentially ideas of how to deal with it. Let us keep seeking God regarding these issues until we can truly let them go and take instead His lasting, fulfilling treasure. In doing this, we will honor the Lord by seeking Him first, and we will simultaneously enjoy more of the freedom and abundant life that He bought for us at such a great price!

“It is for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

--Judith Graham

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Woman Behind Martin Luther

On a beautiful summer day in early July 2009, my parents, Kelly, and I walked the streets of the quaint German town of Wittenberg. We took a walking tour of the city that led us into churches and homes, and concluded our day there at a restaurant eating pizza. Oh, but to have walked that city in the 1520s! What would it have been like? Who would we have seen? What would the mood have been in that important little town?

In two days we celebrate the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold statement to the Catholic church when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. These theses stated that salvation was by faith alone, not through the practice of indulgences (paying money to the church to attain salvation for oneself or another). Though Luther did not mean this to be a monumental event, it was, and it became the recognized start of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther continued to remain faithful to the Word of God in his teaching as he elevated the Word over the edicts of the pope and the corrupt church. In 1521 in the city of Worms, Luther took his stand before the Holy Roman Emperor and other notables and would not recant his teachings on salvation or on the false practices of the church. Labeled a heretic, he then had to hide away for ten months. During this time, he worked on the translation of the Bible into the German language, because of his belief that all should have access to a Bible in their own language and be allowed to read and study it for themselves. In 1522 he returned to the city of Wittenberg and took a large role in leading this reformation movement that had spread throughout the country and Europe. He was still single, but was not to remain so for much longer.

A group of 13 nuns escaped from a convent in 1523 in the darkness of night and made their way to Wittenberg, having received Luther’s help in escaping. They had read his writings and were convinced of the truth of them. One of these women was 24 year old Katharina von Bora. As a 6 year old child, she had been sent away from her family to a cloister school; at age 16, she’d taken her vows to become a nun. Having now escaped the convent and arrived safely at Wittenberg, she had  to figure out how to make a living for herself. Luther took a part in helping the nuns get settled and find husbands, and he actually tried to find one for Kate. She did not like his choice and told him so. However, in 1525 she ended up marrying Martin Luther himself.

Katharine Luther played a vital role in the reformation happenings in the town of Wittenberg. The Luther’s home, a former monastery, was a hub for scholars, university students, escaped priests and nuns, and others who had need. The Luthers would house them and feed them, thanks to Kate’s careful managing of the household as she gardened, bred cattle, and managed their resources and finances wisely. Their table at dinner was always full, and they usually had a waiting list of those wanting to stay with them. Yet Katherine didn’t simply stay in the background; she also took an active part in the conversations that were held in the Luther’s living room as relatives, friends, and house guests spoke about everything from current events to Scriptural matters. Many of these conversations were written down by guests and preserved, known now as “Table Talks.” Kate was an integral part here as well.

Although Martin Luther did not originally marry Katherine out of love, he learned to love her dearly and depended upon her as a faithful partner in life. In speaking of Kate and in his letters to her, he addressed her as “my dear Kate,” “Kate, my rib,” “my most beloved Lady of the House,” “my true love,” and “my sweetheart.” He depended on her as she supported him, challenged him when she felt him to be in the wrong, and encouraged and nursed him in his times of illness. The story is told that at one time Luther was depressed, and Kate’s counsel was not able to lift his spirit. She put on a black dress, and when Luther asked her if she were going to a funeral, she replied, “No, but since you are acting as though God is dead, I wanted to join you in your mourning.” Luther got the point and recovered.

On that day in 2009, we saw the rebuilt church where Martin Luther nailed the theses (the original one burned down), the church in which he preached, and the home of his well-known friends, the Cranachs, among other sites. But my favorite part of the day was visiting the “Lutherhaus,” that large former monastery that Katherine Luther had turned into a home in which many found a welcome place to stay and converse. There she had worked unceasingly as a manager of her household to put food on the table and provide beds for her guests. There she had born six children and sorrowed alongside her husband as two died young. There she supported her husband in the work he was doing for the progress of the gospel. She fulfilled her role as a "helpmeet," which allowed her husband to do what he did.

There is much more to say about Katherine Luther, but my hope here is simply that we may be encouraged and challenged by other women who have gone before us, women who faced great challenges yet walked with the Lord and served others sacrificially. Our daughter Katherine was named in part for Katherine Luther with the prayer that she, like Kate Luther, would be bold in her faith, a strong woman, a dedicated worker for the good of others, and a great support to her husband if God grants her one.

* Information taken from Katharina von Bora: A Reformation Life by Rudolf and Marilynn Markwald

--Amy O'Rear