No Valentine Left Behind Part 2

Last week’s post introduced ways Jesus’ love can overflow our hearts and be used to bless others.  The focus was on loving single moms.  This week, I wanted to highlight another demographic that would love any extra smiles you have to offer.

Valentine’s Day can feel like a day gone by to shut-ins and the elderly.  At the same time that a young single girl might be sitting at home and wondering why her day isn’t pink and roses, other hearts are sitting indoors, maybe recalling the days of dances and holding hands that are now only memories.  Jesus wants to hold these hearts too.  He wants them to know that they are dearly loved, and never forgotten.

It can be easy to try to bring warmth into someone’s life through an upbeat smile and a chipper attitude, but it is not always easy to start a meaningful conversation with someone when you might not even know their story.

Perhaps you already know of older people to visit who would love the company, or you may be venturing into new territory.  Every person will be different, so be sensitive in interacting with those to whom God leads you.  Valentine’s Day often feels like a time to make a big show of affection through gifts and attention, but it may also be a point of sorrow for someone who is grieving a loved one.  If you aren’t sure what the best approach would be, just bring yourself and be a friend.  Remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.

Some people don’t need much encouragement to start a conversation, with others, it may be helpful to ask questions.  What sorts of music do they like?  Maybe you could even listen together of your phone.  Do they have a favorite season, flower, or sport?  If they have been in church for a large part of their lives, they may have favorite Bible verses or hymns.  You may even find common ground that you didn’t expect.  I once had a very amusing conversation with my grandmother about how we didn’t understand the trends and fads of “our generation” (hers and mine respectively), and how they all had to be up on the latest things like Elvis or rap music.

Be sensitive, but don’t be afraid to reach out.  It can be common in nursing homes for a person to have physical touch from those who care for them, but not very often from friends who have time to sit and hold their hand or give a reassuring touch.  Jesus also reached out into places and to people that needed the warmth of His reassuring hand.  Spend time with Him and learn His same compassion for people who are in situations we might not understand.  Even if they seem not to understand everything that is going on around them, ask Jesus to give you His eyes to look past it, and His hear to speak to them as a friend would.  In the midst of a life that rushes by, stop and have a chat with someone who needs a friend.  He may share a blessing with you that you did not expect as you reach out to share His love.

Ask if you can pray with them before you leave.  Even if a person’s mind is not what it used to be, their spirits often remember the touch of their Savior.  It is such a sweet thing to hear a heart that has long belonged to Jesus when it prays.  If you think that you may not be able to visit again for a while, make sure to tell them what the time meant to you.  Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart and let them know what has touched you.  For someone who cannot get out much anymore, it can mean the world to know that they can still reach others too.

by Stephanie H.

If you have any stories you would like to share or ideas for reaching out to others, please let us know in the comments.  We would love to get to know you or answer any questions you might have.  Thank you so much for spending time here with us.

No Valentine Left Behind Part 1

  The warmth of Jesus’ presence is so satisfying.  It is so sweet to hear Him whisper for you to come away alone with Him for a while.  In silence and in song, there is no place so loving as His embrace.  Why do we come back to our day to day lives?  Not because His love loses its comfort, but because we cannot bear to see others without this same love.

Valentine’s Day has become a special time with Jesus for me.  Previously, Anna and Tai have given us some great advice on how to keep Jesus as the center of your Valentine’s Day, even if you’re single.  When our cup begins to overflow, and we see His heart and His eyes of compassion, what can we do but share it?  Valentine’s Day has such a strong focus on love and sweetness, that it can also end up highlighting pain and loneliness in our lives and the lives around us.  What an opportunity to share the love of Jesus.

Whom do you have in your life that might need a touch of Jesus’ love?

The first people that came to mind for me are single moms.  Being single at all on Valentine’s Day can be tough.  A single mom carries a great deal of responsibility for the little hearts she holds, but it is not always easy for her to have those heart-to-heart conversations of her own.  This could be for any number of personal or practical circumstances.  Perhaps there is a single mom near you who could use a ray of Jesus’ joy in her life.
Even if you don’t know someone very well, flowers can be a sweet reminder that she is loved.  God didn’t have to finger-paint the plants in order for them to thrive, but He just loves to delight our hearts.  Can you believe how many beautiful things He has made?

In the same way, receiving the gift of flowers can bring so much light into a busy or stressful day.  They can be such precious windowsill reminders of God’s love.

It might take you out of your comfort zone to give flowers to someone if you don’t know her well, but don’t underestimate how much of a blessing a sincere smile can be.  It often touches people’s hearts more than they show it, and it certainly blesses Jesus to see His daughter sharing His heart with the ones He loves.

If you know her well, you may be in a position to take her out for coffee, lunch, or on a shopping trip.  You might even know her well enough to surprise her with a favorite latte at work, or to set up a chance for her to get a manicure.

Don’t forget the kiddos!  Every mom is different, and every phase of parenting every child is different.  Some moms might need a chance to regroup before they get back to tying shoes and giving goodnight kisses.  Maybe she might like some one-on-one adult conversation, and appreciate the offer to baby sit while she catches up with a friend.  Other moms might have the best Valentine’s Day ever taking a packed lunch to the park or sharing laughter with her kids and her friends over ice cream.  Sometimes the best way to let a friend know that Jesus loves her is to show her that He loves her kids.

Keep close to Jesus in prayer as you consider what Valentines He might call you toward.  Every situation is different, but He will lead you where He means for you to be His light, even if that means spending more time alone with Him before He tells you how His love will overflow through you.  Even so, don’t be afraid to share a smile and a loving word with those around you.  A little love can go a long way.

by Stephanie H.

Part 2 of this serial will be available next week.  In the meantime, how has the Lord blessed you when you were lonely, Valentine’s Day or otherwise?  Have you ever followed His direction to show love to someone even though you were nervous?  Send us a message or let us know in the comments.  We absolutely love hearing from you!

A Single Purpose

It hasn’t always been easy being single.  Even in learning to rely on Jesus, and truly seeing Him as my beloved, there are some times of loneliness that still come up.  I am at the point in my life where I can really resonate with what Katie Davis Majors wrote about singleness, and just really being happy (maybe a bit stubbornly so) with the thought of life being just me and Jesus, together forever.

But what is a single person supposed to do?  Each of us has an individual calling from the Lord, but it can seem like married couples have a clearer map to follow than single people.  There is so much to learn about caring for and considering another person even before children come along, and then life is a whirlwind of keeping them fed, loved, and in one piece through terrible twos and teens years, and then teaching them to be adults and parents for themselves.

That’s certainly an oversimplification of the process, but to a single person, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your energy if not on finding a way to get married and start a family.

Culture tells us that this is this is the season for self-love and self-discovery, but, as Tai and Anna have written before, that way of thinking never gets us very far. We can do all “twenty things to do while you’re in your twenties” and still come out more confused than before we started.  What is easy to overlook is that all of culture leans this way.  A focus on “me time” is more noticeable in the lives of singles because they seem to have less of an obligation to take care of others.  God’s people were not meant to live this way.

In Matthew chapter twelve, Jesus said that “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (verse fifty)  And in the book of Acts, “not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” (Acts 4:32) 

God’s people were made to be a family: a family that extends beyond our blood relatives.  As Tai wrote, that does not mean that we have to be stay-at-home daughters until are married.  But it also doesn’t mean that our lives must be mainly focused on our own interests or on our work lives.

One profound way I have been learning to be a part of God’s family is by using the time I have to support my brothers and sisters who do have greater family commitments.  I am still at a stage of life where there are not many variables that would make it hard to change up my schedule if I need to do something.  I cannot imagine how great a responsibility it is to support a family at work, go home and make sure they are fed, loved, and doing well in school, maybe staying up with them at night when they are sick, then getting them up for school in the morning and doing it all over again.  Some of my colleagues do this sort of thing every day, and it is a huge blessing to me to know that I can help them in it by picking up odd tasks (turns our I love doing certain kinds of paperwork), or filling in if a sick family member needs care that day.  An added bonus is that I have also been learning many things that will be a huge benefit when I have a family of my own.  And that is just my own experience.  There are so many people who could use a little more family support.  The elderly might need a chat or a hand with the heavy lifting.  Maybe a single mom could use a friend stopping by for some girl time, a grocery shopping buddy, or a babysitter for the evening so she can wear jewelry again.  A dear pastor or leader might appreciate the lawn mowed so he can spend time with his family or take care of some of God’s other family members.

As a single person, I also have fewer complications if the Lord calls me to the mission field.  It might not be your call, but it is a reason to be in prayer.

If you’re not yet called to sell everything and move into the jungle, think about how you do use your resources.  If you have a good job and a family support network, you might have the opportunity to splurge on hobbies and hanging out with friends more often than others people who are supporting families. In what ways could you be supporting God’s family?  What are some of the dreams, needs, or wishes among your friends, church family, or community?  Is there a woman at church who could use some flowers today?  Is there a younger person who might need a big sister to take them for ice cream?  Has an emergency come up for a friend, making it harder to make ends meet?  Would it really make a friend’s day if someone caught the check at lunch?  This can be a tricky subject, since some people find it embarrassing when when another person meets their financial needs.  There are also cases where giving money might encourage a harmful lifestyle.  Always been in prayer about how the Lord can best use what you have, but don’t be afraid to overcome your inhibitions when He shows you how to bless His family.

Be especially generous with your prayers.  Just knowing that someone else is willing to take a few minutes out of their day to intercede for them really touches so many people’s hearts.  So many of these things can be great random acts of kindness, but take it a step forward and get to know and love the hearts of your family in Christ.   Don’t be afraid to adopt someone!  Take the love Jesus has given you and show His family how He cares for them.  He’ll use His family to take care of you too.

by Stephanie H.

Freely Give

Sometimes, Christmas still has that sparkle.  The snow fell pretty heavily yesterday morning, leaving us to the warmth of lamps, blankets, and instrumental carols to complete the picture.  By noon, the pajama-clad children are all napping on the couch, one on top of another like puppies, surrounded by empty boxes, stray wrapping paper, and all of the newly discovered treasures.   There is just something magical, even surreal, about the Christmas festivities.

I was thinking about all of the gifts exchanged and received, and how much there seems to be in the moment.  One gift right after another with barely time to look at them before they are scattered amidst the boxes, bags, bows, and packaging that hid them: between gifts of clothing, tools, toys, books, snacks, gadgets, and novelties, it suddenly feels like everything in your life is new, as though this is the first day of a life defined by different things than the last year.  The thought made me stop and count what exactly my gifts had been this Christmas.  I don’t mean to reduce how thoughtful they are, or how much I will enjoy them, but realistically, a few sweaters and scarves, a tote bag of snacks, and a novelty lamp will change very little about my day to day life once the glimmer of this charming Christmas day has worn off.  I will enjoy them, but I will still have to come back to the firm reality of the world and admit that these things are just amusements.  I had some very significant time with Jesus this Christmas, but I also came to realize how whimsical so many of my expectations of a “good” Christmas day are.

Another thing that stood out to me this year was in giving gifts to my friends at work.  With the month of December being so busy, I only put together small gifts this year, but the response I got surprised me.  Nearly everyone to whom I gave a gift hesitated at first and asked “Is this for me?”  I teased some for being surprised (“No, I just wanted you to hold it” *wink*), but their voices really did sound affected.  A stranger might ask such a thing if given a gift, but there were friends and co-laborers with whom I work day in and day out.  Did it actually surprise them that someone was thinking of them?

The roads we walk are often hard.  Jesus is always there with us, to pick us up when we fall, and to refresh us when we are weary, but I underestimate how often He does this through His family.   The whimsical gifts fade, but anything with a hint of Jesus in it lasts, in as much as He is in it.  I have known things even as small as a smile that touches the eyes or a good-night hug to have a realness, a solidness, to them that all of the “real” material things seem to lack.  Those glimpses of Jesus are the things that keep me anchored during the difficult times.  From the moment that they are given, they may be as small as seeds, but they can quickly become the roots that keep us stable in the midst of the harshest storms.

It can be a struggle to keep scattering seeds when we often cannot see the results, but it is something that is starting to spur me on to love more actively and directly.  It may seem silly to invest time and resources in people who don’t seem to need the attention, or who don’t seem to want it, but the seeds God gives us were meant to be scattered.  Whether they will face heat, thorns, or be eaten by birds, so that we never see where those seeds come up, is for Him to decide.  He may move us on to other fields before we even know which patches were the good soil.

Is that not to our benefit?  We would be so quick to decided what “good soil” looked like if the Lord always let us see at face value the results of our devotion to Him.  His words to us were “freely ye have received, freely give.”  What if we could move past our fears, and love and serve others as often as we feel the need to be loved?  The thought that “This is for me?” could mean that I have given someone a seed in the midst of a hard time makes me long to give away everything I own to bless others.  What might I be keeping that could be used to bring hope to others?  When might my timidity be keeping me from reaching out to someone in public who may need a friendly smile or a kind word?  Christmastime has its whimsical charms, but I want to see Jesus Himself.  I pray that I will love more freely in the New Year.

by Stephanie H.

The Arrow of Thanksgiving

Your fingers hurt as you pull back the string, keeping your eye on the fletching.  Your arm wants to shake as it pulls against the tightness of the string.  You move your focus down the shaft, linger on the arrow head, then center on the yellow circle in the distance.  Breathe, and-

Thwi-!

Holidays can be difficult times for me.  I love the comfort and quiet they can bring, the moments of warm, soft reflection in the midst of all that goes on day to day. Sometimes, however, that peace can be far more elusive on the special days than it is in the midst of the deadlines and the daily grind.  If left unprotected, it is peace easily lost and disappointment readily gained.

How often does Thanksgiving cross the calendar this way?  Expectations run high, and when we come to the familiar “What are we thankful for?” it can be so much easier to think, Well, I would be thankful, if…

The Bible shows us holidays in a way that is different than we are used to thinking.  Instead of days off to do what we want in the hopes that we will feel better at work after, Biblical holidays were days of training.  When the Lord established the Sabbath day, the foundation of all holidays for His people, in Deuteronomy chapter five, this is what He said:

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
~Deuteronomy 5:15

When life gets busy, we have to make a conscious effort to keep from drifting off with our moods, stresses, and fears.  That effort can be something that seems to add to the burden of our to-do list rather than lightening it.  Because we are used to the hope of resting recharging our emotions on holidays, training sounds exhausting and intimidating, but God designed holidays to be training in joy.  Joy is not a spontaneous feeling like happiness.  Even at our lowest points of fear and sorrow, joy can be ours if we are used to exercising the right muscles.

This is where I come to thinking of thanksgiving as a weapon.  It can be so hard to be thankful.  It really isn’t something that comes to us naturally.  When we first feel the weapon in our hands, it is so alien that we hardly know how to handle it.  We know how it is supposed to work, but surely it is meant for other people to use.  People who are “talented” in the realm of thankfulness.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, we can feel our fingers scream when we first pull back that tight string.  Our muscles tremble within us as we struggle to keep the bow steady and pulled back tight.  We miss the target, then again, then again.  It is a struggle to hit the bull’s-eye of joy, but we must learn to think like Leah.  Leah could have been tossed about mercilessly by her circumstances.  Her husband loved her sister more than he loved her.  God blessed her with three sons, but even still, she was lonely amidst her blessings.  Finally, she made a choice: “This time, I will praise the Lord.”  And her fourth son Judah became the forefather of our precious Jesus Christ.

This time—whatever the time may be—will you praise the Lord?  Think of the bow as His faithfulness.  It is solid and true, but sometimes hard to grasp at first.  We know its strength, but how could we ever be able to approach it?  If we try on our own, we will never be able to get the arrows on the string, but Holy Spirit helps us the draw the strength of the unfamiliar string.  Devote time to training.  Set aside pieces of the day, especially the holidays, to learn of His faithfulness, and to practice putting your trust in Him.  Remember that in the same chapter as the command to keep a Sabbath, Moses shared with the people:

The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
~Deuteronomy 5:3

The Lord’s faithfulness is something He gives to you.  It is not loaned to you by permission from someone else.  It is what God Himself has given directly to you.  Don’t be afraid to interact with His faithfulness in your own life, no matter the situation.

I think of the arrows as truth.  Circumstances and emotions can toss us back and forth; in the midst of that, there are solid truths to which we can still cling.  Maybe they don’t seem very significant at the time, often they won’t be enough to rocket us from the doldrums straight to cloud nine, but sometimes just a little piece of something that is really, honestly true is enough to give us a hint of joy.  Again, we know these truths better the more time we spend in the Word and in prayer.  If we devote time to memorizing the Word, it is like we get used to reaching for the quiver without even having to think of where to find it.

God is faithful.  Here are the truths.  Draw the string, aim for the center of His presence: joy lives there.  Hold steady.  Remember, thanksgiving is a choice.

Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In everything.  It sounds an awful lot like training, doesn’t it?  We still have some time before Thanksgiving Day comes.  Take the time to learn the tools.  It is a hard thing for the enemy to stand against a truly thankful heart.

Deep breath.

This time I will praise the Lord.

And…

Release.

by Stephanie H.

Abandoning Your Ungodly Hobbies

“Not now, sweetie, I’m busy.”

“Go ask mom.”

“I can’t.  I’m going to the mall with Julia tomorrow.”

“I’d rather go to the movies.”

“What did you say?  I wasn’t listening.”

It hurts when those we love are too busy for us.  It doesn’t just hurt; it breaks our hearts.  It is also a pain Jesus understands more deeply than we can imagine, not just because He knows your pain—and He does, so deeply—but because this is how the ones He loves treat Him all of the time.  The number of things that we choose instead of Jesus is nearly endless.  It is something we all do far more often than we care to admit.

What are the things that get between us and our loving Savior?  Some of them just get a hold of our short attention spans; others we pursue feverishly because we’ve forgotten how to live without them.  In the same way that we have adjusted to television as background noise to every room and exploring absolutely anything through the screen of a phone, we have grown so used to sinful activities that we don’t even realize how unnatural they are to the heart of God.  In fact, our hearts are full of things that devastate His.

I was sitting in my room, praying hard, in anguish over the Scripture that had stood out to me.  I had been hurt by someone close, not just once or twice, but for years.  Now the Lord was confronting me in the the words that echoed in my head:

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. ~Matthew 6:15

I had read these words so many times before, but this time they broke me.  In my pain, I was hurting the only One who could heal me, and I was putting of barriers of anger to keep Him away.  Still, that pain and bitterness had become so much a part of me, that I knew I couldn’t stop.

For days, it was all I could pray about.  I needed to be free.  I wanted to be with Jesus again.  Finally, He showed me what the true nature of my bitterness.  Anger frequently filled me thoughts, but not constantly.  The fact is, when I had nothing else to think about, I would go looking for bitterness without even realizing that was what I was doing.  My bitterness was a hobby.  It was a pastime that let me focus on myself.  It didn’t make me feel happy, but it made me feel justified.  It was enough to fill my mind to keep me from thinking about how hurt and vulnerable I was.

How many of these sorts of hobbies do we have?  Bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, hatred?  What about cruel humor, mocking, gossip, and backbiting?  Maybe self-harm, substance abuse, or sexual addiction.  It can even start small with a taste for violent films, novels, and video games.  Maybe we don’t notice because things can still make us smile or laugh, but when we hurt, we so often bury ourselves in hatred to keep from being hurt again.  The littlest thoughts and complaints become a part of our daily rhythm; something we can’t live without because it keeps us from thinking about being weak.

The saying goes that “hurt people hurt people.”  The truth is, hurt people hurt Jesus.  What we use to push others away who might hurt us ends up hurting Him more than it hurts the ones we fear.  Knowing that should make us feel awful, but feeling awful about it doesn’t mean we’ll ever be able to stop.  What we need to understand is that Jesus hurts more than any of us can imagine, because He is more innocent than any of us can ever know.  He hurts more than children who cannot understand what they did that they should be left alone, but in that depth of pain, He forgives.  In our pain, our thoughts and our actions break His heart, and He forgives.  He knows we cannot ever stop unless we fight to release these hobbies of brokenness to Him.  So He forgives, and He gives us His Spirit to restore to bruised and bleeding pieces of our weak and vulnerable hearts.

Whether they mean to or not, people will not stop hurting us, but we can still be vulnerable and be safe in His arms if we are willing.  He can hush our aching hearts as easily as He does the stormy seas.  He teaches us the beauty of the silence we fear so much, the silence we fill with hours of mindless rhythms and distractions that keep us from thinking.  Rest can become not falling apart, but falling into His arms.  We can leave all of our hobbies behind for a life, a real, full life.  A life of peace and joy eternal.

by Stephanie H.

Aesthetic the Idol

 

Emptiness abounds.  A click of a button can become a painful reminder of the parched souls and aching hearts that may be hiding behind the faces of our closest family, neighbors, and friends.  Sometimes, we see the pain; other times, we don’t find out until it is too late.

The church sees and often feels that same yearning for hope.  Christians know that their faith should hold the key to broken hearts feeling love again, to trials turning to gold.  They have a longing to see their brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are lost find a home where they can be loved, cared for, and feel the sunshine and warmth of peace again.  Those who know brokenness want to see the pain in others healed.  The Lord gave us hearts that long to see every tear wiped away.

And so the church set out to build homes: places for people to be reminded what it is like to feel, to see art and hear music that wakens a piece of their broken hearts, and to know that they are not alone.  We know that the Lord loves a sincere heart.  Giving Him our best to help others must surely be a blessing to Him, even if we’re not quite sure how to do it.

This is true.  The world will see Christ in the church because of something we have that is different from the world.  Unfortunately, with so much brokenness still in the hearts of many believers, much of the church has gotten swept up in the appearance of fulfillment in order to reach out to others.  It is widely circulated today that the way to reach people and show them that the church is different is to have stylish places to meet, sell quality coffee, and create music and media content that shows real talent and skill.  Some follow this idea because they believe the world will need something familiar to draw them to church.  Others think that the world is so busy pushing their way of thinking that they can’t make anything of quality anymore, so that if people see Christians making good quality things, they will have to admit that God exists, because quality must be something eternal, something meaningful.

This adoration of quality is something that has distracted many Christians from following Jesus.  We begin to try chasing away the darkness by embracing comedy and humor of all kinds.  We want to show the world we understand “real” problems by making art and music that captures the spirit of anger, terror, and hopelessness.  We want to us these things to show them that there is still hope, but because we have been focusing on refining skills and talents as a way to do the most for God, we have lost the key to salvation in all of the busyness.  The beauty, the art, the music, all have a note of hollowness to them.  We like to keep busy because we can often feel an ache in our hearts that tells us if we pause too long to listen to that hollow sound, we will see that all of our churches, our youth centers, our coffee shops, our hopeful homes, have become pieces of a ghost town.

Friend…

Sister.

You do not have the strength to heal anyone.  We cannot even heal ourselves.  Our words, actions, and creations can bless others, but the only way that they can be healed, can find a home, can know love and joy and laughter again, is not to have shadows of Jesus in your actions, it is to have the actual, real, full person of Jesus with them.  That can be very hard to hear, because we try so hard, but living fully in our hearts and in our actions is exactly where Jesus wants to be.

The weeds and whispers of the world can be very distracting, so it is very easy for us to become separated from our Father in a culture that is basically a shiny, colorful department store to our child-like minds.  Christians know in their hearts that Jesus is somewhere, but it can often feel like God is the watch-winder, and our job is just to keep ticking along until the right time comes.

As creatures made in God’s image, we have an innate desire to create.  We also have a strong connection to what we create, and what things awaken that creative nature.  These tendencies are wired into us so that spending time with our Father will bring us closer to Him.  However, when we start thinking that our talents are their for us to use—even to use for God—we often end up creating and interacting things that draw our affections away from the heart of our Father.

Remember that it is Jesus’ goal to bring all people to Himself (John 12:32).  Things that we create in and of ourselves will reflect our beliefs, but if we submit ourselves to Christ, and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the things He builds through us will actually introduce others of our precious Savior Himself!  In essence, we view our talents as our tools to serve Him, but in our surrender to His will, His complete will, we become the brush, and He becomes the painter.  We become the strings, and He becomes the sweet hands that give us music.  He has complete freedom to love others through us, to come alongside them personally, and to wipe their tear-stained faces with His nail-scarred hands, holding them close until they are made utterly whole again.

Kneel before Him and give Him all of your heart.  Trust Him with everything like Mary did in pouring out what she had for Him.  Whatever others may say, they will see Him at His work on the pages of your life.  Will you sing a more hopeful song without Him?

 

by Stephanie H.

Martha, Martha

I had a conversation with a friend a while back about spending time with Jesus, and one of the things she said got me to thinking.

“You’re more of a Mary, and I’m a Martha.”

We very much like to categorize ourselves in this day and age.  From ISFP, extrovert, type A, phlegmatic, wall flower, all of the way to “What ice cream are you?” or “Which Bible character are you?” we are encouraged to establish a solid identity, our own little niche of belonging in a chaotic world.  Those boxes often make us second guess any actions or decisions that would take us outside of our own identities.  When it comes to our relationships with the Lord, that cookie cutter identity can be crippling.

When my friend told me that I was a Mary, I had to laugh on the inside.  She is very outspoken, while I could sit for an hour looking at a piece of grass.  She manages to juggle a dozen different tasks at the same time as nurturing half a dozen different people through their fears, joys, and anxieties, all within the span of ten minutes.  I work best with one thing at a time, and can get so focused that I will sometimes not even hear what people are saying around me until my job is done.  From the outside, that might seem like the perfect recipe for sitting at Jesus feet, but being still and listening are not things that come naturally to me.

My mind runs a mile a minute, so it isn’t uncommon for my prayers to become chatter sessions, telling the Lord everything I have planned, and when I think things are taking too long to happen.  I have to laugh at myself when He reminds me to listen, and instead I go down a list and ask Him about all of the things I think He might have to say.  In short, I am very much a Martha.

Realistically, we all face the same struggle Martha did.  When Luke begins this story (Luke 10:38), he says that Martha was the one who welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home.  Martha had a brother named Lazarus as well as her sister Mary, but it seems that she was the one who took the initiative to invite Jesus into their home.  That is is where we all know to start, and it is certainly nothing to sneeze at!  Martha knew that there would be nothing more important in her life than having Jesus come into her house.  Hospitality was (and still is) vitally important in their culture, and she was ready to give all of the resources, strength, and time she had to make sure that the Teacher and His friends would remember the welcome she had given them.

Now, Martha was no Pharisee or Sadducee.  Her focus wasn’t on whether or not she would look impressive enough.  Her focus was on hospitality and doing good for others.  Along with Jesus and the twelve primary disciples, who knows how much of a crowd was following Jesus that day?  She wasn’t about to let any of them go hungry.  So where did she get distracted?

The story of Mary and Martha takes place in Luke chapter ten.  If we go back just one chapter, Luke nine gives us the account of Jesus feeding five thousand men, in addition to women and children.  Now He is back in Bethany, and here is Martha, stretching herself thin trying to feed one household when the Bread of Life is there sitting in the next room.

Martha does seem like a go-getter in this passage, but fears apply to all of us at one point or another.  She feels the pressure of wanting to do her job well.  She wants to bring comfort and rest to the lives of others.  She hates to think of anyone slipping through the cracks on her watch.  She gets so lonely in all of her cares and responsibilities, that she gets upset with the Lord for not easing her burden by having her sister help.

It’s not that Mary was more into feeling and Martha was more into doing.  All of Martha’s worries are addressed at the feet of Jesus.  It can be so easy for us to imagine that He has overlooked us with His help, and to say “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”  Not one person was overlooked when Jesus fed the people in the wilderness, even though the disciples had no money to feed them.  When we place the burden of success on our own shoulders, that is when our stress levels skyrocket, and things start falling apart, whether we’re juggling caring for a family and coordinating a dinner, or just trying to get through our paperwork.  Meanwhile, Jesus is patiently waiting, calling each of us by name.  It is hard to give up control to the Lord, “but only one thing is necessary.”  And when we seek first that one thing, all of our needs will be met, and we will find that Jesus provides more fruitfulness to His ministries than we could ever hope to do on our own.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
~1 Peter 5:6,7

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
~Matthew 11:28-30

 

Martha, Martha.  Won’t you taste and see that He is good?

by Stephanie H.

Trendy Grace

 

Grace.

Yes. That word.

It is trendy, it’s hip, it’s just the right blend of a pinch of reformed and dash of hipster, and when you drop it into conversations, everyone thinks you’re totally relevant and totally accepting of all those things that more “prudish” Christians look at as sinful and ungodly.

Thank goodness you know “grace”.

Or…do you?

I was sitting out in one of my favorite prayer spots not long ago, reading through Titus, when the scripture below jumped out at me. I’ve read it MANY times, and actually know it by heart just from reading it so many times. But…this time was different. This time, it was like I actually understood it…and I realize that what I was reading was such a clear contrast to the way we so commonly perceive “GRACE”. Read it yourself:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” Titus 2:11-12

Um. What? Wait, wait, wait. Paul obviously missed the memo. Like…doesn’t he realize that grace means that God saved us so He overlooks our sinfulness now? Like…we’re covered by the blood of Jesus, dude. Grace.

Let’s take a step back here, and look at some important details. Why did Jesus come? “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Jesus came to save His people from their sins [read: He didn’t come to help us to feel better about ourselves, or to make us comfortable in our sinful passions, or to pat us on the head when we live selfishly]. In light of that, what IS the “Grace of God”?? The grace of God is that Jesus has rescued us from the power of sin and death (Romans 8:2), meaning that we no longer HAVE to sin! We have been set free from the shackles of sin so that we CAN walk in godliness, and say “NO” to sin. God has given us the power to overcome our sinful passions, and given us the freedom to live righteously!!

The first few verses of Romans 6 also reiterate these things in a very straight-forward way:  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. ….So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. ….For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Wait. “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace”? But…but…grace means we don’t even have to worry about sin, right? 

Ok, back to the Titus 2 verses. Go ahead, read them again all the way up there. Ok, now lets unpack the verses:

“bringing salvation for all people”

This means that God desires to see people saved. There is a common misconception that if we speak to people plainly about God’s commands, and His plan of salvation, that we are being judgmental and not having grace. So, many people feel like they have to tiptoe around those who are living in sin, fearing to speak up on the Lord’s behalf, because they don’t want to be “judgmental”, and they hope that just by “loving on” these people, they somehow will turn to the Lord on their own. Maybe they will. Maybe some have. BUT, if we are unwilling to stand up for righteousness, and live set-apart lives, and boldly proclaim the gospel ourselves…..why should they become Christians? Because, in their eyes, how are we any different from themselves, or from any other “non-Christian”. We must be willing to boldly show those who don’t know Jesus the reason our lives are different, and to give an answer for the hope that is within us! God wants people to be saved, and what kind of friends are we if we let them go on living in their sins, which we KNOW are going to lead them to destruction and ultimately eternal death and separation from God?? [1 Corinthians 15:56a, “The sting of death is sin….”]

Jude 2:23a says, “Save others by snatching them out of the fire…” — not by waving and smiling at them as they careen over the edge of the cliff.

“training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. ….We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning…” 1 John 5:4a,18a

Renounce. That’s a kind of intense word. We might keep the definition fuzzy in our minds as we read over it because, as long as it stays fuzzy, we don’t REALLY have to worry about doing it. If you don’t want to act on this verse, don’t read any further…because I’m about to give you the definition…and it’s not fuzzy or a vague concept.

Still reading?

Well…I warned you:

re·nounce

rəˈnouns/

verb

  • formally declare one’s abandonment of
  • refuse to recognize or abide by any longer
  • declare that one will no longer engage in or support

Now you wished you had stopped reading when I warned you, don’t you? But, unfortunately (or fortunately) for you, now you have the responsibility that comes with knowledge. God’s grace trains us how to abandon, no longer engage in, and refuse to abide by ungodliness and worldly passions.

Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Which brings us to:

and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age

Living according to God’s commands takes work. You don’t just stumble into a righteous life. You must fight for it daily — hourly! You must learn to recognize ungodliness and unrighteousness in your own heart and life, and come up with a plan to combat those desires and tendencies with godliness, and self-control. We will get to the place of a deeper understanding of God’s heart, and a greater discernment of those things that are commonly embraced by the world, but which are unhelpful for a Christian to engage in, or worse — those things which break God’s heart and cause Him much sorrow — when we SPEND TIME WITH JESUS each day. Just like any friendship, this is really the way we get to know God’s heart, and the way we are able to receive His power to live an overcoming life. And, even though it takes much work, it WILL bear fruit in your life, because we aren’t trying to do it on our own, and we aren’t going after the devil’s strongholds in our own strength……..and THIS, friends, is the grace of God. We CAN have victory, we CAN live new lives, we CAN receive new hearts, we CAN overcome our sinful tendencies — BECAUSE OF THE GRACE OF GOD. Because He has given us the very authority of Jesus, His Son, over the devil, and over the devil’s schemes, and all sinful temptations.

Let us take hold of this gift of grace TODAY, in the fullness of it’s power. Let us take hold of this amazing power and authority that God Himself has gifted us with as His children, and heirs with Jesus! Let us not treat so lightly this gift of grace. May we overcome by the blood of the Lamb TODAY!!!

 

Jesus Has Little Sisters

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to having as dear and sweet a friend as Jesus.  I don’t even know where to find the words for the love He has shown me.  The joy, the thrill, the sense of humor, all make me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  Hearing from Him and spending time with Him just makes my heart sing in a way I never knew was possible.  Even though I grew up in a Christian home, I never expected to have Jesus for an actual real best friend.

All of those thoughts made Matthew 13:55 and 56 stand out to me recently.

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

When the Son of God came to earth; the one who carved out the mountains, painted nebulae, and fed sea monsters; He came into a family where He would have little brothers and sisters.

It is still so easy for me to turn prayer into business meetings and memos, and time in the Word into browsing for what my next assignment is.  Like the Nazarenes in Matthew thirteen, I forget that the One who organized the functioning of the entire world and wrote all of the rules is also the Father who made petunias smell sweet, designed the family, and gave us the ability to know love.

I just imagine little girls coming to their big brother Jesus with their skinned knees, their fears, and their clumps of fresh-picked flowers.  I wonder how often they shared hugs and laughs, and how many of them He watched get married.  The One who said “let the little children come to Me” knows exactly what to do with them when they need Him.

I don’t have many memories of being a little girl.  I remember being very young, but the thoughts I remember having then were as analytical as I always seem to have been.  I don’t know if I was born an old soul, or if I just forgot those innocent joys, but Jesus doesn’t just have the little sisters He grew up with, He adopts all of the broken girls too.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
~John 14:18

I think one of the reasons I cannot find the words to explain what it is like to be loved by Jesus, is that I finally don’t have to.  I don’t have to think through a full ten minute oration on why I’m stressed or confused or why I need His comfort.  When I do try to explain, He often doesn’t let me.  He just sets aside the problems that I’ve handed Him, and holds me close instead.  He is gentle when I am most vulnerable, and He shows me how He loves me when I least believe it.  It’s love I’ve never known from anyone on earth, but it is never too late to be Jesus’ little girl.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said,“Behold My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
~Matthew 12:49, 50

When He adopts us, Jesus not only cares for the broken girls, but He heals us and teaches us how to become unshakable.  Arguments and situations that used to give me anxiety become places where I can feel His strength, and where He has taught me to love when I never could have on my own.  There are some struggles that return again in different ways as we work through them together, but they give me a chance to see a deeper part of His love I never knew before as He grows me into a sister and daughter He can be proud of.  It is a walk that so fills my heart, that I want to show everyone what it is like to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Jesus has little sisters, and you are one of them, precious girl.

by Stephanie H.