Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christmas Lessons

The Christmas season always brings with it several certainties. I love--love!--all the lights that people put up to represent Jesus, the light of the world. Maybe not everyone puts up lights with that intent, but that is how I receive them. I enjoy the ubiquitous music and the crowds--people looking, looking for the right gifts for people they love. This is how I always choose to view the crowds.

This year, I'm thinking about marriage and children. God in his wisdom created families to teach us about himself. He is the father who always loves. We are his children who can trust in his constancy. He sent his son into the world to live in a family with a mother and a father, brothers and sisters, showing us that it is possible to live a life that is pleasing to God within the structure of a human family.

Recently I've attended a couple of weddings and have been reminded of another of God's lessons. The marriage relationship is a representation of God's relationship to the church. When the beautiful bride comes down the aisle--and she's always beautiful--she is a picture of the church (that's you and me) that God loves and sacrifices for, just as a human husband will work hard to provide for his loved one. In the same way that the bride should faithfully honor her husband, we are called to be devoted to God, giving our worship to no other.

To carry the comparison a little further, the result of a human marriage relationship is often children. The result of a healthy church is the making of other children--new followers of God. The analogy may not be perfect, but I was thinking about that passage in Luke chapter one. God intervenes in Elizabeth's life and gives her a child when it seems impossible because of her advanced age. Then he intervenes in Mary's life and gives her a child before it is humanly possible.

God's power is unlimited. He can--and does--bring children into his family when the situation seems humanly hopeless. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we may have the privilege of being his instruments in bringing forth new children of God. That is my desire, and I imagine you feel the same. Let us be faithful and obedient.

--Sherry Poff

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fighting Against Familiarity

“Often, when we are familiar with things, we begin to take them for granted. When we are familiar with things, we tend to quit examining them. […] Familiarity tends to rob us of wonder.”

            My husband and I read this quote by Paul David Tripp last night in the introduction to his advent devotional O Come Let Us Adore Him. Tripp writes that his hope in these daily devotional readings leading up to Christmas is that they will help the reader truly meditate on the Christmas narrative so that he or she may recapture the wonder of the Incarnation. That’s my hope this Christmas. Isn’t it yours?

            It’s so easy to get caught up in all the extras – the decorating, Christmas baking, presents, and parties. We remember Christ’s birth as we sit in church and sing the beloved Christmas carols, but in the day-to-day, at least for me, my heart is more captured by the “feeling” of the Christmas season than by the Savior who was born. After all, I’ve known the Christmas story as far back as I can remember. It is very familiar to me. And yet, Tripp is right: Familiarity does rob us of wonder if we let it. So I, for one, am determined not to let it rob me of that wonder this year. Here’s my plan. I write this as an encouragement to you to come up with your own ways to not let Christmas become familiar. Let’s spend much time this Advent season in awe that a holy God would stoop down to this lowly earth and become one of us in order to rescue us. And let us look ahead with anticipation to His return when He comes again, not as a baby, but as a King. Here is how I’m being intentional this month:

1. An advent devotional: These are daily readings from the first of December through Christmas Day to point me toward the real meaning of the season. An added bonus: Kelly and I are reading these short devotionals together in the evenings, so we can dialogue about them and be in awe together.

2. An Advents wreath: This is a tradition I grew up with in Germany. The wreath holds four candles, and since today was the first of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, we lit the first candle. Next Sunday, we’ll light two and so on. The candles remind us of Christ’s coming as the “Light of the World.” The word Advent actually means arrival or coming, and it not only reminds us of Christ’s birth as a baby, but it also points towards His second coming when all will be made right.

3. A Family Advent devotion book: This may seem overwhelming, but we found a great Advent book for families with three devotions per week (Prepare Him Room). This is totally doable, and the kids really seemed to enjoy it today (well, at least the older two did). Each day includes a Scripture passage with a short devotional, a Christmas carol, and a fun but simple activity.  Oh, how I want to pass on to my kids that the gift of Christ is so much greater than any toy they could get at Christmas.

4. Songs and Messages: I don’t want to simply sing Christmas songs and hear the Christmas story in messages and think, “Wow, I love Christmas time.” (Again, just that ‘warm, fuzzy feeling.’) I want to be in awe. I want to worship. I want to fall on my face before the God who loved this world enough to come down “when the fullness of time had come.” I want to be amazed that the Old Testament prophecies had come true. And that the same God who kept His promises then still keeps His promises now, and thus I can know that He will come back one day to reign. This Christmas, I want to be filled with wonder.

--Amy O'Rear

Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Word for the Week

April 2018.  It’s my turn for the blog.  Oops!  I’m in the hospital with emergency surgery following a complication from a procedure.

 July 2018.  It’s my turn for the blog.  Oops!  I’m in the hospital with complications from a repeat of the same procedure.

 November 2018. It’s my turn for the blog.  Oops!  I’m just home from the hospital after an unrelated surgery, but this time it’s planned, so I’m writing my blog early.  It may be short, but it will be.

 Maybe this means I shouldn’t write for Cup of Grace!  Nope!  I love doing this. A few nights before the surgery the Holy Spirit brought a verse to mind and it has come back repeatedly. It’s a fragment of Colossians 1:18, “that in all things He may have the preeminence.”  That’s my word.  Preeminence!  It’s not about me.  It’s about how I can bring Him glory and praise through this time. 

If my goal is to bring honor to the Lord then I have to figure out a way to do that through the time of my surgery. I need to find how to make him most important. Perhaps making him important would be kindness in speech and deed, patience, thankfulness, speaking to represent him. That sounds like a job description every day.  John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That’s the formula for making him preeminent. Here it is in a nutshell.  HE>i. 

                                                            Faith Himes Lamb

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Sands of Time

Shortly after we were married, my husband, Paul, was asked to be a groomsman in a wedding in New Jersey. Being from the Midwest, neither of us had seen the Atlantic Ocean, and Paul was very excited about it. He wanted to experience the ocean -- the breeze, the smells, the breakers, the taste of the salt sea.

We went out on the boardwalk in the evening. We got off the boardwalk and into the sand. It was difficult for Paul to roll the wheelchair through the sand, so he asked me to push him. It was much too cool to swim, but Paul wanted to experience the reality of the ocean, so he asked me to roll him out into the water.      
I tilted the wheelchair back in order to keep his feet above the water and pushed him a few yards out into the ocean. The water was only a few inches deep. He was well able to balance the wheelchair in that tilted-back position, so I splashed around in the shallow water, seeing all the interesting things the sea washes up, while he sat and “experienced.” The tide was coming in gently -- no “rolling breakers” here. He felt the movement of the water, smelled the breeze, tasted the ocean, heard the gulls. A few people were walking on the boardwalk; occasionally someone would ask me, “Do you want me to help you get him out?” “No, thanks,” was my cheerful reply. “I just got him in!”

Eventually the tide had inched the water up near his seat and feet, so he called me to come and get him out.I went over, took hold of the wheelchair handles to back him out of the ocean, and tugged.  (Did you see this coming?) I couldn’t budge him. He grabbed the wheel rims and pulled hard. Nothing.  Together, we couldn’t move him an inch. As the beautiful water had softly, gloriously, smoothly flowed around him, the sand hidden beneath had insidiously, wickedly, relentlessly washed up and up around his wheelchair tires and locked him in.

I scanned the boardwalk, looking for those friendly helpers. Nary an assistant could I see. Dusk surrounded; water surrounded; sand encased. We pulled together. Heave ho! Heave ho! Ever more frantically calling on our strength, we finally moved him just a bit. A bit more. Another inch. Two more. The sea continued rising. It was a long hard slog. We finally got him back on the beach, with wet feet and seat. He was delighted. Happy as a clam. He had experienced the ocean. It has been a wonderful memory for over 40 years.

I could draw the likeness of sin, as it sneaks into our lives, robbing us of freedom, but that one is rather obvious. You get it. But the big things we call sin may come crashing in more directly. We make poor choices and experience bad results. We deliberately do wrong things we later call “mistakes.” (Sin is always a mistake.)

But there is a lot of sneaky stuff in our lives that we don’t really recognize as sin that has the consequence of robbing us of our freedom to move when God tells us to move.
In our old age (whatever age you are), complacence (which is not the same thing as contentment) may cause us to be unwilling to move in a direction God wants to send us. We’ve been comfortable with things as they are; don’t rock the boat. This is good enough. We’re stuck in the sand and happy as a clam.

Unforgiveness gets a grip on us that increases as we pet it. More unforgiveness washes in. We fawn over the grudge; we forget how much we have been forgiven. We think we have equality with God; we should have the power to punish or to forgive. The accumulation of resentment locks us into an irresistible anger.

We may get into a habit of noting and criticizing others’ failures. The cumulative effect of constant criticism may make us start to feel pretty good about our own righteousness! But it is a trap. We are not righteous. Only Christ is righteous, and we have no business claiming His righteousness as ours so we can look down on others.
Memories – bad ones – may pile up around us. They recur, grate on old wounds, swell.

You can make your own list. What is sneaking around in your life, bogging down your growth, locking you down so tightly you cannot respond to God’s call? If you don’t know, ask Him. In Grace Group on Sunday evening, I made a suggestion as to how we might go about “forgetting those things which are behind.” God immediately gave me my personalized list of things to work on. I don’t like to think about it. But a bit of honest, if painful, evaluation may keep us from getting stuck in wet sand – which is the first stage of hardened concrete.

--Lynda Shenefield

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Rooted in Love

Remember that science experiment we did in elementary school? The one with the stalk of celery? In case you didn't have a quality education (insert smile here), I'll tell you about it. You cut the end off a stalk of celery, exposing the vessels that carry water up the stem. There is likely a scientific term for these vessels, but if I ever heard it, I've forgotten it. Anyway, you then put the celery into colored water and wait. In a few days, the celery leaves will be tinged with the color of the water.

In our Sunday School class this week, Carol Woods told this story (She said I could use it): When Carol taught sixth grade here at GBA, she had a vine she called Betsy in her room. The students asked one day what would happen if they fed Betsy jello. Carol figured that jello would not hurt the plant, as it is mostly made of protein and sugar, so she said, "Let's find out." (That's what a good teacher says--Let's find out.) So the students fed the plant red jello, and in a few days---you guessed it! the leaves of the vine had taken on a lovely red hue.

What a great lesson! Carol's plant took in the jello through its roots and its appearance changed. The substance it was rooted in became apparent to onlookers. We are told in Ephesians 3:17 that we are to be "rooted and grounded in love." When God's love is part of a woman's very being, everyone around her can see it.

There is a lot of hatefulness in the world today. I'm not suggesting, like some, that disagreeing is "hate speech." As Christians, we must stand for truth, but we can "[speak] the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). We must seek to display the gentleness and meekness of Christ. We do this by immersing ourselves in his love. We immerse ourselves in his love by reading his word, spending time in prayer, and doing the good work he has planned for each of us.

Don't you want people to see Jesus when they see you? To see his tenderness and his mercy? "Beloved, let us love one another" (I John 4:7), and let us demonstrate his love to the lost around us.

--Sherry Poff

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Check Your Heart's a funny word that immediately brings to mind its antonym...pride.  Humility and meekness seem to evoke pictures of a quiet, go with the flow, never stepping on anyone's toes kind of Christian.  Someone who never speaks up for themselves or voices their own opinion. And pride would be someone who thinks they always know best and have no problem speaking loudly and sending out all their opinions.  I'm not sure either of those pictures is entirely accurate.  The Holy Spirit seems to be prompting me to re-examine some misconceptions I have picked up along the way as I have walked this Earth as a follower of Jesus for almost three decades now.  I think Christian culture can sometimes be pretty far off from what the Bible actually says and so it was during my Bible study this last week I came to some chapters in Matthew that helped focus my view on what true humility looks like straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Matthew 18
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 

The disciples always seem to be pretty concerned with who had top billing in the Kingdom...ironically missing the point that the kingdom wasn't about them at all.  Children are the example Jesus gives as role models of true humility; allow Him to lead and set the plan while we follow along holding His hands.  We are not in charge and we do not know best. Jesus knows best and He is always better.  Jesus came to save those who were lost, is not willing that any should perish, and came down from Heaven itself not believing that equality with God was something to be grasped, but instead humbled himself being obedient even to death. 

Following these first verses in Chapter 18, Jesus warns the disciples not be stumbling blocks by urging them that it would be better to cut off their hand or pluck out their eye than to be the reason a believer stumbles.  He tells them of the reckless love of the Father who would leave the ninety-nine and go and find the one who had wandered off and rejoice at their return.  And Jesus tells the disciples how to handle conflict when a brother/sister sins or offends you.  After all that, Peter speaks up...don't you just love Peter? He's always saying what everyone else is thinking. :) He has to have been listening to all these teachings and thinking, "Okay, Jesus, I hear you, but when is enough just enough?!" 

21Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
The king is Jesus and the slaves are all of us. The slave who refuses to forgive, to extend the same grace granted of him, is the epitome of pride in this example.  Believing themselves to be owed what was rightfully theirs, blinded their eyes to the mercy the king had bestowed upon them.  For if the slave had truly understood how much they had been forgiven, they could not help but grant forgiveness and mercy to others.  It really is that simple a child could understand it.  When we comprehend the grace that has been shown us, humility is a natural by product of this knowledge from the Holy Spirit.  One of my favorite comedians, John Crist, has the catchphrase "Check your heart!" He says it tongue in cheek about things like Chickfila nuggets versus strips, but as I read Jesus' words I felt the urging to check my own heart.  Do I speak as a daughter of the King who understands how much she has been forgiven?  Do I understand my place in the Kingdom was granted to me upon my adoption? That I have been saved out of that pit of sin and misery? Humility and pride are not personality traits exhibited by introverts and extroverts.  You can be loud and humble or you can be quiet and full to the brim with pride. Humility is a natural outflowing of a heart that is in tune with the Spirit. When in doubt....#checkyourheart. 

--Gabrielle Haston

Sunday, October 28, 2018

More Than a Story

Did you ever take notes during the pastor’s opening prayer because his words were so profound? That just happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

As the service began, the pastor prayed: “We don’t want to leave You on the pages of the Bible.” Wow! I peeked and found a pen and jotted it down. Actually, my writing could stop right there.   His words are a GOAD to stir my thinking as a Christian.

Are we leaving God “only in the pages of the Bible”? Do we sometimes treat God’s Word as though it is a story about Jesus and His life and miracles and yet those miracles and His life do not show through us?

That is a question to consider even if we are daily in God’s Word - and have been for years. Maybe you have been saved a long time and have just not “gotten the hang of it” as far as a meaningful, daily Bible time with the Lord. It is time to start!

Psalm 119:130 - “The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” So there is hope for ALL of us...even the “simple.” J

So is it busyness, fear, pride, unconcern that keeps us from focusing on this important part of our Christian lives?  Our priority must be getting God’s words into our hearts and Jesus off the pages of the Bible. When He is so alive in us, we will not hesitate in offering this gift to others.

Now, I also believe that most of us do not have hearts that are unconcerned for others. Life just gets so full of “important” tasks and responsibilities that we do not focus consciously on sharing the Lord Jesus with others.

We can do that by following Galatians 6:2 that exhorts us to “bear one another’s burdens.” Many times, through our helping to bear a person’s grief or troubles, that person has come to know Christ. This takes time!

Our words can show Christ to others as in Proverbs 15:23 that reminds us “how good is a timely word.” This “timely word” can be face-to-face or in a lovely card with God's Word to remind them of His love. This takes time!

Do we feel that the outcome of our sharing is our responsibility? Remember, with Jesus and you, there are two people in that relationship. Only ONE is enough. He is “never depleted.” The Holy Spirit has all the creativity we need to help us in any conversation or situation.

LET’S NOT LEAVE JESUS ON THE PAGES OF THE BIBLE. We want to get Him into our lives and share Him with others.

--Maylou Holladay