Sunday, August 20, 2017

What is Your God Like?

Look in the mirror.

Speaking of “the nations,” the Psalmist says,

Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
    so do all who trust in them.
Ps 115:4-8 ESV

Idolaters become like their idols? Mute, unseeing, deaf, unable to smell, unfeeling, unable to walk or talk? It’s a pretty good description of those who are “dead in trespasses and sins.”

The Bible indicates that those who worship the true God are like Him, just as idolaters are like their gods.

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he (God) is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. I John 3:7-104

Jesus tells us we need to make an effort to be like God – love and pray for evil people, because God is good to evil people. Then he tells us to be perfect, because God is perfect.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mt. 5: 44, 45, 48 ESV

Evidently is takes no effort to be like an evil god. Evidently, it does take effort to be like the one true God. In any case, we do look (think, act) like the god we choose for our lives.

That’s scary. Do I want my God to be like I am? No. Am I content with my own life as a reflection of the character and actions of God? No. But God’s Word says we are like the god we choose. So have I really chosen the Almighty, the Pure and Holy? It’s a choice that has to be made every day. Every minute. Every second. I’m failing miserably.

The apostle Paul makes a big deal of the difficulty of doing right.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Romans 7:18 ESV

The ease of our tendency to do wrong is a lifelong plague for all of us. While repentance and saving faith in Christ is a definite-time event, striving to be like God is an unending quest.

This poem by Thomas T. Lynch, 1818-1871, was set to music by K. Lee Scott. May it be our prayer, ever.

Gracious Spirit, Dwell With Me

Gracious spirit, dwell with me, I would gracious be;
Help me now thy grace to see, I would be like thee;
And, with words that help and heal, thy life would mine reveal;
And, with actions bold and meek, for Christ my Savior, speak.

Truthful Spirit, dwell with me, I would truthful be;
Help me now thy truth to see, I would be like thee;
And with wisdom kind and clear, thy life in mine appear;
And with acts of charity, speak Christ’s sincerity.

Holy Spirit, dwell with me, I would holy be;
Show thy mercy tenderly, make me more like thee;
Separate from sin, I would and cherish all things good,
And whatever I can be give him who gave me thee.

 --Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nothing Wasted

Recent events have got me thinking about the shortness of life. When I read in Psalm 103 that the human lifespan is "as grass," I can only agree. The passage goes on to say, "As a flower of the field, so he (man) flourishes. For the wind passes over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more."

Several years ago, one of my students read me a poem called "Perfection Wasted" by John Updike. The idea of the poem is that people work all their lives perfecting their personalities, their "act," and then when they die, it is all gone forever. I couldn't help crying as I thought about my own dad and the wonderful man he was--funny, smart, compassionate--and the thought that all his jokes and his wit died with him did indeed seem like a waste.

But my dad knew Jesus. My dad lives. I confess I don't really know how the afterlife works. I know that Paul says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8), but I don't really understand where or how we are present with the Lord. Perhaps I should be content to know that God knows. When I was a child, it all seemed so simple, but as I myself get closer to finding out first hand--and as people I love make the transition--I wonder more and more about what we'll be doing when we're finished here.

And we'll be finished here very shortly--like a flower of the field. But even flowers replenish the earth after they die. They're not wasted. If God doesn't waste flowers, is he going to let all our love and learning die with our bodies?  Think of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. We are more valuable than lilies of the field. God has a bigger and better plan for us.

The passage in Psalm 103 goes on to say, "but the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him." If God's mercy for me is everlasting, then his plan for me must be so as well. I remember asking Bea Ward if she thought we'd be able to do things in heaven that we didn't have time for in this life. Her answer was immediate: "Oh, yes!" she said. "I'm going to learn Chinese."

--Sherry Poff

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pressing On

 “I press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus! Philippians 3:14!”

I remember saying shouting this verse every Wednesday night in the Word of Life Olympians club at my dad’s church growing up. Pressing on toward my calling was something I latched onto from a very young age.  I have known I was meant to be a teacher since I sat in Mrs. Rutledge’s kindergarten class at Brainerd Baptist in 1990-1991.  I did not always know what I was to teach or whom I was to teach. But, I knew God had placed that calling on my life. I have always felt a great responsibility for the trust the school system and parents have put in me as they send their children into my classroom. That feeling of great responsibility was magnified when I had my own children, Caedmon and Selah, for now I was not only a teacher, but also a mother. To be entrusted with such precious lives has been both terrifying and awe-inspiring.

When the Lifeway Women’s blog posted earlier this summer they would be offering the study “Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy” for free online, I was excited to explore the teacher/mentor relationship of Paul and Timothy.  I had picked up and put down this study several times because I’ve always been intrigued by Paul.  I imagine him to be a cross between the look of Paul Giamatti, the intelligence and wit of CS Lewis, and a knowledge of scripture like Dr. Price. J  Across the five week study, I got to look deeper into the remarkable faith and incredible humanity of this amazing teacher.  He reminded Timothy to guard what had been entrusted to him, the gospel and the gifting of the Holy Spirit (“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” II Timothy 1:14) right alongside voicing the pain of betrayal (“…Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me…Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm…”II Timothy 4). 

I know I have definitely been guilty of assuming at times that the people in the Bible are in there because they are super-human when in fact they are in the Bible because they are just like you and me and faced the same relationship struggles that we do.  I think that is why we are encouraged thus in Hebrews10:25 : not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” It has always been a human tendency to withdraw when things get difficult, but it is a God-tendency to press on, roll up the sleeves and build each other up.

Throughout the study we were reminded we have been entrusted with both the gospel and the gifting to see our calling through. If you are a child of God, you have a calling. 

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, When He ascended on high he led captive a host of captives and He gave gifts to men…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service for the building up of the body of Christ" Ephesians 4:7-8, 12  

We have all been entrusted with the gospel and the gift to proclaim it in our own unique ways.  Some people are teachers, some are caregivers, some have the gift of hospitality, of cooking, of encouragement, and any number of gifts from our infinitely creative God. What are we doing with those gifts? How are we fulfilling our calling? Are we actively seeking ways to connect with others and build our community? Are we looking for mentors/mentees with whom to trust our burdens and to encourage in theirs?

I have learned much from my teachers, my students, and my children about who God is, His love, the gifts He has given us, and the calling He has on my life. That’s usually the way these teacher/mentorships go.  I have a feeling Paul would say he learned just as much from Timothy as Timothy learned from him.  And I believe Paul and Timothy helped press each other “on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Are you pressing someone else on? Are you being pressed on?  We’ve all been entrusted with the gospel…what are we doing with it?   

--Gabrielle Haston

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Angel Warriors

--from Maylou Holladay

“For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Psalm 91:11

ANGELS...Those sweet cherub faces and wings and haloes...Yes, I do like to hang them on our Christmas tree... especially those beautiful angels we got in Italy, Fiji, Germany, and Republic of Georgia.

BUT... are those really like the angels spoken of in the Bible?
How many times have we quoted the verse: “He will give His angels charge over thee...”
and yet we haven’t thought about what they truly are and why God assigns them to take care of us.

Every year in Cincinnati at the church our children attend, there is an incredible Christmas presentation called AWAITED. It is basically the story from creation to resurrection, dramatized in music, drama, and dance. It takes hundreds of hours to prepare and thousands of people...yes, thousands!...are amazed with the presentation every year. Brant and I have been privileged to attend twice. It was especially a blessing when our son David and granddaughter Kailee were involved in the ministry of it.

Of course, there had to be angels in a Christmas story. But...Wow! When I saw the way the angels were presented as God’s WARRIORS, it was as though a light bulb shone brightly over my head. Yes! These angels who protect us are not beautiful, feminine figures with wings and haloes but WARRIORS! How else could they do what God gives them to do? ANGEL WARRIORS are woven into the whole story of the Bible.

*The ANGEL who delivered the three men from the fire in Daniel 3:28 (“Blessed be the God...who has sent his ANGEL and delivered his servants...”) had to be strong enough to take care of three men in a fiery furnace.

*In II Samuel 24, God used an ANGEL to administer judgment. And we know about the ANGEL who stopped Balaam’s donkey in the road...trying to deter Balaam from his journey to curse the people of God (Numbers 22).

*The ANGEL of the Lord often gives protection...Psalm 34:7: “The ANGEL of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them.”

*In Exodus 23:20ff, God speaks about His ANGELS helping to direct the children of Israel and to “keep you in the way.” Perhaps even for us, that promise is carried over with this thought in Hebrews 1: 14: “Are they not all ministering spirits (ANGELS - vs. 13) sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”

*I have to include Matthew 18:10 - such a comfort for our little ones - which warns us not to despise these little ones who come to Jesus, because “in Heaven their ANGELS do always behold the face of my Father.”

The next time you hear the word “ANGEL,” be excited that God has those WARRIORS out there for us. We cannot see them, but they are there...strong, bold, and yet kind enough to do His bidding...keeping us safe and even helping to direct us. Thank God for His WARRIOR ANGELS. What a comfort!!

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Summer is a great time for outdoor activities, and bicycling is one of my favorites. One summer, Dan and I bought a book that had preplanned routes all over our region. We made it our goal to ride every route before summer’s end – at least every route within our fitness range. 

Every Saturday morning, we rose early and tried to be on our bikes no later than 7:00 am. Those summer mornings felt surreal in their misty coolness.  One Saturday our route took us out McDonald (TN) way. In that part of the country, winding, hilly roads took us through pastureland where we would say hello to cows, goats, llamas, sheep, and chickens, along with a few turkeys. Chicken farms announced their presence first by dusty, musty, and sometimes pungent aroma. Wide-open grassy fields stretched out before us in the morning light. We would huff and puff up each hill, hoping a dog wouldn’t chase us in our struggle, and then glide like the wind down the other side. 

Caught up in the adventure, we often failed to notice the temperature creeping up and up. Anyone who lives in the South knows our summers carry oppressive, muggy heat, but the day doesn’t start like that. It starts off cool and pleasant, but then, in the tiniest of increments, the mercury rises. One day I was taken off guard by this fact. We had ridden all morning and were drenched in salty sweat. We only had a few more miles to go to get back to our car, but I “hit a wall.” Without warning, I stopped on the side of the road, laid my bike heavily in the grass, and  dropped to the ground. I could go no farther.

Has anything in your life overtaken you in small increments? Maybe having ice cream every night has put a few pounds on your hips? Maybe your credit card balance has risen to unmanageable proportions? Maybe too little sleep and too much stress is wrecking your health? Maybe skipping devotions “just today” has slipped into a month? Those little decisions add up over time.

Are you sitting on the ground drenched in sweat? Maybe something needs to change.

joyce hague

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Leaving a Legacy

            One of my greatest passions is to leave a legacy through mentoring/discipling. The only things that last from this world into eternity are God’s Word and people’s souls. One of the funniest stories I have ever heard about a legacy is The Tree That Owns Itself. If you know my UGA Bulldog husband, you should be able to guess where it is…Athens, GA.
            Well, this tree was apparently on the property of William Jackson, who was the son of a Congressman, his brother was a Congressman, and his dad was a Congressman, all in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.  Anyway, the story goes that he loved the tree because of very fond memories, so he gave the tree its own deed. 
            The original tree did finally die, but before it did, several people took acorns from it and grew offspring of the tree. One of the offspring of the tree is still standing today, in that very same spot. It has been declared a state monument and is now taken care of by the state.
            This particular part of Jackson’s life makes a great story, and there is nothing wrong with having sentiment for all sorts and kinds of things on this earth. But I know I hope to leave a deeper, eternal impact. Furthermore, it is God’s desire that we leave an eternal impact through teaching and discipling other women. Titus 2:3-5 says:

Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good. In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited.

Okay, so leaving a legacy, or what I call mentoring, is a command given by God and is something all believers should do. So, how do we do it? Mentoring is defined by the Wikipedia website as “a developmental relationship between a more experienced mentor and a less experienced partner referred to as a protégé.” I love this definition because it doesn’t matter how old or young you are, someone is less experienced and/or physically younger than you.
But there is one major roadblock (besides finding/making the time) that I have discovered regarding women and mentoring. Many of us don’t feel qualified or capable to mentor others. We think it is this huge process and commitment that requires seminary-like knowledge to lead an in-depth Bible study.  For some people, it could be that.  But as we discussed, mentoring is for everyone.  You have the Spirit inside of you, so you have plenty to share.
I think many of us also feel like we need to have ‘arrived’ or be ‘perfect.’ But the truth is, we are all imperfect, and none of us wants to be taught by someone intimidating and ‘perfect.’ Furthermore, one of the greatest lessons we can pass on to others is how to live as an imperfect person striving for holiness – it is a great paradox and is often uncomfortable for us to live with. We need to see others who are vulnerable enough to share their weaknesses and how they deal with them, how they seek the Lord and find grace, but continue to get back up and keep running the race.
Mentoring can come in many forms – it can be spiritual and focused primarily on a Bible study or a Christian book, but it can also be focused on learning a skill or just doing life together. I would like to share with you one of my favorite mentors in hopes that you will see how ‘normal’ she was. Dawn was my ‘adoptive’ college mom. She and I didn’t ever do a formal Bible study together.  Many of my mentors have done Bible studies with me, but she was my life mentor: she was a model of a Christian woman, wife, and mom. I would come over and do laundry, she would cook dinner, and then give me the recipes. Sometimes she would show me how to cook.  I remembered she showed me this great schedule she had for planning out her cooking, grocery shopping, and freezing leftovers. I would go to the kids’ birthday parties, and once went to the lake with them.
She invested in my life, was interested in me, and the kids were there the whole time.  Sometimes we played with them. Sometimes I got to see how she corrected her children when they tried to interrupt a serious conversation. She would acknowledge them, but say that she was in the middle of something with Miss Judith, and that they could wait their turn. I was pretty impressed at how patiently they typically waited. Then, at a good pause, we would turn our attention to what they needed.
But one of my favorite things was this little shelf in their home school area, where the kids saved money for ministries and missionaries. What a sweet thing to model giving to others and God’s work. Then, God called me on a year-long mission trip, and the most precious thing was the day Dawn gave me $15 in coins that her kids had saved for me. They had asked if they could save money for my mission trip! That $15 meant so much to me because I knew it came from a joyful heart of giving, and from a child.
Dawn rarely took time away from her family because they were busy, but she pulled me into their life and made me a part of their family. And along the way, she taught me life skills, godly parenting, and other godly traits as well.
Mentoring doesn’t have to be very formal, but it also can be. It is primarily about investing in someone’s life, being a resource of love and knowledge, spending time with them, and imparting godly principles through life and from God’s Word.
So, if you want to be mentored or to mentor someone, look around at the people you know, pray and ask God to show you who He would lead you to, and ask that person. It never hurts to ask. Perhaps you need a good study on being a mother, so one time you ask a mother with grown kids whom you admire to help you through one. Perhaps you want to learn how to sew, so you find someone in church who is good at it, and along the way, she invests in your life. Be bold.  Ask the Lord for these relationships, because it is what He wants for His church.
My hope and desire for all of our ladies is to know that you are valuable and needed for the kingdom of God and this church body. I pray that we all seek God about who can invest in us and who we need to be investing in. It is precious to gain wisdom, love, and friendship from someone, and it is amazing to see God use you to impact another person’s spiritual life for eternity.

--Judith Graham

Sunday, July 9, 2017

What is My Life Telling the World?

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching, show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8)

This passage is at the end of a series of commands directed to men and women, both young and old, in the church. Paul is writing these words to Timothy, a young man whom he views as a son who is now serving as a pastor. It has always fascinated me how verse 8 ends: that an opponent would have “nothing evil to say about us.” Opponents to the gospel have plenty of evil things to say about us; we hear it when we simply turn on the news. They think we are narrow-minded, they don’t like the idea of an absolute truth, they say we are stuck in the past, and the list could go on and on. How would it happen that they would have nothing bad to say about us? What does this mean?

In our Sunday School class, we are going through a video series by Pastor Matt Chandler on biblical manhood and womanhood entitled “A Beautiful Design”. In this last session we viewed, Chandler used this passage in Titus in connection with God’s design for men and women. He was talking about God’s plan in the unique leadership role of men in the home and the calling of wives to be submissive. Chandler expounded on the beauty that is seen when those roles are played out biblically: The husband is a man who is committed to his wife, sacrificially loves her and values her input, and leads his wife and children with a servant’s heart. The wife in this relationship feels completely safe, cared for, and appreciated, and in that environment gladly respects and submits to her husband. Of course, we are still in daily need of grace and even on the best day we don’t do this perfectly. But for believing couples, there should be a pattern of growth in this. Chandler rightly points out that the world hates this idea of leadership and submission. They find it “archaic” and have plenty of evil things to say about it. But this pattern of marriage works! Chandler points out that the world may hate the idea of it, but they can’t say anything against it when they see it played out rightly. If they come to our house for dinner and see our family flourishing under these biblical guidelines, they will be the ones “put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

I have thought about this often since we started this series as Matt Chandler repeats it again and again: Human flourishing happens when we live according to God’s design. And the world cannot say anything against it, because they see that it works. Again, they might not like it, but they can’t deny that flourishing happens when God’s designs are followed. I think of young adults that I knew as children who are now in their 20s and living “in the world.” I am incredibly saddened when I see their posts on Facebook, because it is so obvious, that they are not flourishing. I want to say, “Don’t you see? It’s not working. That is not the way God designed life to go.” They know the Word, but they threw it off when they left home to live the way they wanted to live. They are raising fatherless children, going from boyfriend to boyfriend, and are not happy. Even those young adults, the ones who didn’t like what the Bible taught, would be hard-pressed to say that their way of life works better. Human flourishing happens when we live according to God’s design, and the world will be “put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us”. Are we showing them the beauty of God’s design, not just in marriage, but in all of God’s commands? Do they see in our lives that it “works”?

I read this portion of a prayer yesterday in Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers: “Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until thou alone art seen in me, thy beauty golden like summer harvest, thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.” God is beautiful; His design in perfect. May the world see those truths in the lives of Christ’s followers.

--Amy O'Rear