Pile of Pennies

78.87 years. That is the average life expectancy of an American. It sounds like a lot of years, doesn’t it? That’s especially true if you’re 10, 15, or even 30. I have noticed that as I entered my 40’s, time seems to go by so quickly. Remember the opening line of the soap opera – “As sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives”? 

Time goes by so quickly. My oldest nephew, Benjamin, turned 17 last month. 17! If I close my eyes, I can see him still as an infant. Like it was yesterday. Where did 17 years go? 

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In that picture, you see 79 pennies. Each penny represents one year of life. The average life expectancy of an American. The truth is, we don’t know how many years we will actually have. Some of us will have more than 79, and some of us will have less.

Here’s the picture again, but this time, I have taken out 44 pennies to represent the 44 years I have already used. It’s a little scary to look at it this way, isn’t it? If you have 79 pennies handy, I challenge you to do this. Put them out in front of you, and then remove a penny for each year that you’ve been alive. Look at what is left. Remember, what is left is not guaranteed. Some of us might be on our last penny right now. Sobering, isn’t it?

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, ESV)

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4, ESV)

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, ESV)

This is a challenge. To you. To me. To us. We have been given this one life. What are we doing with it? What are we living for? Each year is precious, each month is precious, each day is PRECIOUS. We don’t have time to waste. This video clip from Francis Chan captures it so well –

What are we living for? Are we spending our time focused on what we can get out of our lives here, or are we living with eternity in mind? 

Here’s the challenge. Let’s make every penny count, every year of our lives matter. It’s so easy to lose sight of just how short life really is. What we do with our time matters. There are things that God is calling us to do – let’s do them! 

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“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV) 

I want my life to count for eternity. I want to run the race well all the way to the finish line. Like Paul, I can’t say that I have already obtained this or that I am already perfect (far from it!). But I want to strain forward to what lies ahead. I want God to be able to use my life to the full, to be able to accomplish through me ALL the plans He has for me.

As I look at my ever-decreasing pile of pennies, I feel a greater sense of urgency. I don’t have time to waste on temporary things. I don’t have time to be bogged down by things that won’t last. My priorities must be those things that have lasting value, and my perspective must be fixed on what is eternal.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)

Will you join the challenge with me? Will you forget what is already behind and ask God to help you make every one of the rest of your days count for eternity? I know that we will have relapses and that we won’t get this perfectly right all the time, but let’s start with today. What can we do with our day today that will be eternally significant? Then, tomorrow, we can ask ourselves the same question. Life is a precious gift that we have been given – let’s not waste it!

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Father, You are our Creator, and You have given us the gift of life. You didn’t give us life so that we could spend it on ourselves, living for what is only temporary. You gifted us with life so that we could live for You and do the things You’ve called us to do. You made our lives for eternal significance. Please forgive us for wasting time and for not prioritizing the eternal. Help us to understand that our days are few, and help us to have a renewed passion for using each day for Your glory. Give us a renewed sense of urgency to be part of the work that You are doing in the world, and please give us the strength to press on to make it our own because Christ Jesus has made us His own. Amen.

-Dana

Courage and Coronavirus

Li Wen Liang.


Dr. Li Wen Liang. This 34-year old Chinese physician died from Coronavirus infection on February 7, 2020. His expectant wife survives him, and she is also infected with this Coronavirus. Dr. Liang has gained international attention, both in his life and now after his death, as one of the first to give warning about the serious new infection that has caused death and difficulty in China and worry throughout the world. Back in December, he observed seven cases of severe respiratory infection that were similar to the infections seen with SARS in 2003. He sent a message to his colleagues, outlining his concerns and advising them to wear protective gear when dealing with patients with this type of illness. According to the BBC, four days later, he was “summoned” to the Public Security Bureau and accused of spreading rumors, making false comments and disturbing the social order. A month later, he himself contracted the virus and subsequently passed away.


I had heard of Dr. Li in connection with the news about Coronavirus, but on Thursday I read an article about him that made me pause and contemplate his courage. He is said to have written a moving poem saying goodbye to his family and his community and concluding with the following passage from the Bible:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8

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Courage.


As I spent some time thinking about it, I realized that over the last several weeks I have been surrounded by stories of courage.
The podcast on Revive Our Hearts that I listen to regularly has this week been an interview with Valerie Elliot Shepard, the daughter of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. She has been telling their stories of commitment to do whatever it took to bring the message of Jesus to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Jim Elliot was one of 5 men killed by the Aucas on January 8, 1956, as they were attempting to make contact and open a door for the Gospel.

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Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, with baby Valerie


Last Sunday the lesson for our 4th grade Sunday school class was about Daniel and his friends, four Hebrew young men who were taken captive and brought to serve the king of Babylon in the early 600’s BC. These prisoners were bold enough to respectfully request a diet that did not violate the laws of their God.

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Now go back another 400 years, to approx 1000 BC when Abigail, described as beautiful and discerning, was faced with a situation created by her foolish and badly behaved husband, Nabal. This story can be found in 1 Samuel 25 and is the subject of a group study I have been in for the last few weeks. Nabal acted and spoke arrogantly and angered David, the future king of Israel. David and 400 men “strapped on their swords,” intending to annihilate Nabal and his household and servants. Abigail stepped out in wisdom and courage and spoke truth and made peace.

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Do I have courage?


The Collins English Dictionary defines courage as “the quality shown by someone who decides to do something difficult or dangerous, even though they may be afraid.”

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Do I, like the Elliots, have the courage to sacrifice comfort and safety to go where God wants me to go and do what God wants me to do?


Do I, like Daniel, have the courage to hold on to what I believe is right, even when it will single me out and open the door for ridicule and worse?


Do I, like Abigail, have the courage to see the messes created by others and speak and act to bring a peaceful resolution?


Do I? Do you?


I want to say we do. We need to have courage. Our families need us to have courage. Our communities need us to have courage. Our world needs us to have courage. The courage we need comes from conviction built on a foundation of faith. It grows from knowing more and more the God who never fails.


“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9


“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of _____ (the text says “the king of Assyria and the vast army with him,” but insert whatever you are facing that stands in your way of doing what you know is right), for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” 2 Chronicles 32:7-8


It takes courage to live a meaningful life. It takes courage to fight battles, some bigger than others, some more visible than others, but all important. We need eternal perspective and the assurance of the power of God. Let us stand for the truth that needs to be spoken. Let us stand for those who need our help and our voice and the message of God’s love. Let us stand for what we believe is right, even when it costs us. Let us act wisely and courageously to bring peace in stormy situations.


“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13


God, thank You that You have promised to be with us wherever we go. Thank You that You help us and fight our battles. Help us to live our lives with the courage that comes from You. Teach us to “en-courage” the people around us to stand strong in Your power. We stand for You. We stand in You. We stand because of You.


RIP Dr. Li Wen Liang. Thanks for your example.

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-Leah

Love Worth Celebrating

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This week, many people will celebrate love. For years, I struggled with Valentine’s Day because it represented everything I thought I didn’t have as a single person. When you have an acute sense of loneliness, about the last thing you want to see everywhere around you is this focus on couples and relationships. If you’re single like I was for so many years, maybe Valentine’s Day is something you just hope will be over soon. Having walked that road, my prayer for all of you who are single is that you will know that you are SO loved by the One Who created you and knows the plans He has for you.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT)

I was 39, and I had been through questions, heartache, loss, and years of unanswered prayer when I met a guy on eHarmony in 2014. After exchanging the required communication through the website and moving into open communication, we decided to meet in person. It wasn’t love at first sight. It was a pretty typical and somewhat awkward first meeting (I would call it a date, but he doesn’t). We continued to communicate and met up several times after that to hang out and get to know each other better. He worked at T. Marzetti in Columbus, and I was an instructional coach in Lima. He wanted to be a pastor, and I wanted to continue my work with inner-city youth. Our church experiences were different, and we didn’t agree on some things. In December of 2014, he decided that our differences were too much of an obstacle, and we parted ways. 

In the meantime, I had been communicating with a guy in Ft. Wayne. He was funny, smart, and a talented musician. We would talk for hours on the phone. He made me laugh, and he loved Jesus. He was who I thought I was looking for. We talked about meeting in person, but his work schedule was a little crazy, and it just never seemed to work out. One day in a text conversation, he mentioned that he wasn’t feeling well. A couple of days later, I realized that I hadn’t heard from him. He hadn’t responded to my texts, which was very strange. I’m not sure what made me do it, but I entered his name in a Google search. Shock took over as I realized that I was looking at a link to his online obituary. He had died from a massive heart attack. In May 2015, I found myself at his funeral. It was the first time I had seen him in person, and he was gone. My heart was broken, and I was devastated.

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Words With Friends. You know, that Scrabble-like game you can play on your phone that brings out the competitor in you? Well, I was never great at it, but I did play it. What in the world does that have to do with the topic at hand? Well, remember the guy from 2014? He loved to play Words With Friends. He was great at it (of course), and even though we had parted ways, we were Words With Friends opponents. Every now and then, he would send a chat message. Because my heart was hurting, I would roll my eyes and say, “Why won’t this guy just leave me alone?” But in an effort to be kind, I would answer and take my next turn. As it happened, in the summer of 2015, this guy found himself going through a difficult time. He reached out to me during a game of Words With Friends, and I could tell he was hurting. I offered some encouragement and some advice. in my mind, I hadn’t done anything big. For him, it was a turning point. He started to open his heart and mind to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, our differences were something we could work through.

In August 2015, we went to Hocking Hills together. We took in the beauty of our surroundings and let ourselves get reacquainted. We had dinner. We enjoyed each other’s company – so much so that we continued to find opportunities to spend time together. October 29, 2015, he asked me if we could make our relationship official, and I agreed. We spent most of our Saturdays together after that. 

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Old Man’s Cave, Hocking Hills

On April 16, 2016, I was supposed to drive to Columbus, meet up with him, and then drive to Lake Hope to hike with my sister and Jeff (her husband). I had a terrible morning. I wasn’t happy with any outfit I put on. I felt ugly, and I was grumpy. I was keenly aware of every insecurity, and I didn’t even want to go. I ended up being  about 30 minutes late, and when I arrived at the park where we were supposed to meet, I was not at my best. We walked anyway – took one of our favorite trails and headed toward the familiar pavilion where we had been many times before. As we entered, that guy dropped to one knee, took out a beautiful emerald ring (he had taken the time and effort to find out that was what I wanted most), and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. I was so surprised. I hadn’t seen it coming on that day. Not at all. I think I said, “I’ve never been engaged before.” Romantic, right? What a moment. Even when I wasn’t being very lovable, I was loved.

A painting that an artist friend of ours made and gave to us. This is where we got engaged.

On September 3, 2016, I married that sweet guy. He is a gift from God to me, a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness, His wisdom, and His amazing love. Every hurt and every moment of waiting was worth it. God knew the plans He had for me. He is trustworthy. Our story is one of how God can take two imperfect people who have gotten lots of things wrong, bring them together, help them to work through their differences, and use them together in spite of their flaws. God is a Redeemer. 

My favorite wedding picture

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT)

This verse means so much to us. We had it etched on this clock that hangs in our dining room as a reminder that God’s timing is perfect.

This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate love. Yes, I celebrate the love Aaron and I share, but most importantly, I celebrate God’s love for all of us. He is busy working out His plans in our lives, and while they may not be what we think they should be, He can be trusted to do all things perfectly well. Even when we can’t understand or see what He is doing, He is arranging the details of our lives for our good and for His glory. His love for us is perfect and it never fails. His is a love worth celebrating.

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources, He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.

Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, Who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT)

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Father, I’m so grateful for Your love. Your amazing love. It really is beyond our ability to understand how even when we are at our worst, you never stop loving us. Thank you that You know the plans You have for us. Help us to know with all confidence that You can be trusted to work out the details of our lives perfectly and in such a way as to bring You glory. When we stop and look back over our lives, we can see Your hand at work. Help us to have the grace to trust You more. Amen.

-Dana

Lined Up

Some people go bowling on Friday nights. Some go to the movies. Some just hang out at home. And some pay to have themselves locked in a room, where they work out the solutions to mind-bending puzzles that will allow them to escape, winning nothing but their freedom and bragging rights. I found myself in this latter group a few weeks ago.

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I so wanted to see the “escape room” concept as some kind of an analogy to life, but I kept coming up empty. It wasn’t until two days later, as I heard Pastor David speaking to the youth group about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, explaining how our lives should “line up” with Jesus’ message that the light bulb went on…

In our pirate-themed escape room, we were trying to find the hidden treasure. One of the boxes we unlocked had a sword in it, and later, we unlocked another box that fit the description of where the sword should be placed. It had to be oriented just right, and when it was, a basket with another clue dropped from the ceiling.

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So, I had a picture of being “lined up.” When the sword was lined up the way it was supposed to be, it brought us what we needed. When our lives are lined up the way God has designed, it opens up a door for what we need, His blessing and His presence. Let’s think about that some more…

First of all, there is the big change, the big lining up with God through Jesus. We can’t get there on our own, but Jesus has made it possible for us to get right with God. That changes everything, including us.


“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” Romans 5:1-2 NLT


“Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:7 NLT


This “making right” is called justification in other translations of the Bible. It is what Jesus accomplished for us by His death. He made it possible for us to “line up” with God, something we were incapable of doing without Him because of our sin. These verses list just a few of the good things that happen when we line up with God through Jesus: we have peace with God, we are able to share God’s glory, we are confident that we will inherit eternal life.


That sword we had in the escape room had to be in just the right position to allow us to reach the clue. The thing about us, is that once we get on the path, right with God and following Jesus, it is so easy to stray, to get turned around a bit, and to lose that orientation. We are often in need of turning, turning back to where we need to be, where we can see Jesus.


A famous hymn says, “Lord, my heart is prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love.”


Peter described this by quoting a sheep analogy from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. “For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” I Peter 2:25 NIV

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And read these words penned by the prophet Isaiah, and later quoted by Jesus and then by Paul,
“He said, ‘Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’ ” Isaiah 6:10 and see Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27


May we be the opposite of that description! May we hear and understand, see and perceive, with a soft hearts, open ears and open eyes. May we see and hear and understand and TURN and be healed.


“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” Psalm 85:8


There is a turning back, looking at Jesus, listening to God, getting back in line with Him that happens over and over in our lives. When that happens, God speaks peace to us. It opens the door to His presence and His blessing. It brings light to our dark places.


This is a heart event, but it starts with an internal movement of our thoughts. We make a conscious decision to direct our thoughts, our focus to Jesus. We regain eternal perspective and choose to let go of things that keep us from connecting with God. The more often we spend time with God, the more easily we realize we are in need of turning, and the more willing we will be to turn. This is why meeting together for worship and regularly spending time reading God’s Word and praying is so vital. It helps keep us where we need to be or encourages us to reach out and let Jesus bring us back to where we need to be.


“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5 ESV


When you wonder where the answers are, when you feel like things are dark. when you feel frustrated and non-radiant, look to Jesus. Line back up so you can see Him. Turn your heart. Just like that first big lining up, it will change everything, including you.

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God, we need You. We were designed to look to You. Help us to have open eyes, hearing ears, soft and understanding hearts. Help us to turn to You. We need You to provide for us, to set us free, to give us peace and to make us shine. Point us to Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT


-Leah

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Even on the Bad Days

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There’s a fun children’s book by Judith Viorst called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Maybe you’ve had the joy of reading this book, but in case you haven’t, here’s a quick summary. The main character, Alexander, is a young boy who is having (as you might have guessed) a really bad day. From the gum in his hair at the beginning of his day to the lima beans for dinner, nothing is going his way. Several times throughout the book, he decides that the best solution is to move to Australia. Ever had a day like that?

I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on Tuesday. As soon as I arrived at work, there was one frustration after another with no time to recover in between. I found myself piled beneath a load of aggravations and unmet expectations. (I tend to hold other people to a pretty high standard, which doesn’t lend itself to a good response when those expectations aren’t met.) In the meantime, I lost track of time and missed a meeting that I had scheduled. I failed to meet my expectations too. Honestly, what made the day really bad wasn’t the things that were happening, but my outlook and my responses. I was responding badly. I knew it. And I couldn’t seem to make it stop. Dana and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Australia sounded like a good idea to me too, Alexander.

To make matters worse, I had heard an excellent podcast on my way to work about responding to situations with discernment and being slow to anger. I had heard exactly what I needed for that day and then had completely disregarded it and acted in the opposite way. It reminded me of what James warned us about –

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:22-26)

Ouch! That was me. I looked in the mirror and then went away, forgetting what I was like. I was a hearer and not a doer, and I surely hadn’t bridled my tongue. I fell down on the job, I felt the conviction of God’s Spirit, and I spent some time repenting on the drive home. I wish I could tell you that this was the first bad day I’ve ever had, that it was the first time I had ever been a hearer and not a doer, or that it was the first time I haven’t bridled my tongue. That would be far from the truth. I think I needed this particular bad day though because it provided a powerful reminder of some things that my heart needed to remember.

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I need God’s grace. If I am going to be a hearer AND a doer, I have to depend on God’s grace. I can’t live the Christian life in my own strength. It is only God’s grace at work in me that enables me to do the things that His Word tells me to do.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

I need God’s grace as much on my good days as I do on my bad days, but sometimes I need a bad day to remember just how needy and dependent I am. I love how these two authors say it –

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace)

“Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel)

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God’s love for me doesn’t depend on my performance. This is huge, and this seems to be something that my heart easily forgets. God loves me just as much on my bad days as He does on my good days. His love for me is unconditional. I sin, I confess, I repent, and I am forgiven. I don’t have to wait for Him to get over it or do lots of good things to make up for what I’ve done wrong. I am instantly forgiven and unconditionally loved. 

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

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God’s work in me is a process. He’s not finished with me yet. There’s still so much in me that needs to be changed, but I am grateful that through His Word and His Spirit, He is in the process of making me more and more like Jesus. I hate missing the mark and seeing the ugliness of my sin, but I’m so grateful that God is faithful to keep on working with me to mold me into the person He wants me to be. 

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Bad days – days when we see just how sinful we still are – will come. If we are children of God, we can take heart that even on the bad days, God extends His grace to us. He loves us, and He is at work in us to make us more like Jesus. 

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Father, Your grace is amazing, and it’s hard for us to completely understand just how much we rely on it. Thank You that Your love for us doesn’t depend on our performance and that You don’t love us less when we have bad days. Help us to run to You when we blow it, to be quick to confess our sins, and to be assured of Your forgiveness. Thank You for Your Spirit’s work in our hearts that is changing us little by little into the likeness of Jesus. Help us to be doers of Your Word and not hearers only. Teach us Your ways as we follow You with our whole hearts. Amen.

-Dana

Tragedy

 

Tragedy. Grieving. Right now, in my world, they feel almost tangible.


Last Friday morning, on her way to work, Angie, a 39-year-old mother of four boys, lost her life in a car accident. In an instant so many lives were stopped in their tracks, worlds turned upside down, hearts broken. We live in communities of large families and tight connections, so this tragedy really did seem to touch everyone. We ourselves are shocked and grieving, and our hearts break even more as we feel the grief of her husband and boys, her siblings and parents, her close friends. Her funeral is today.


Today, January 17th, also marks two years since Owen Weaver passed away. Did you know Owen? Our “small town superhero”? Contagious smile and real joy despite physical handicaps. It has been two years, but the grief is still very present. Especially for his family, forever changed by his presence and every day feeling his absence.

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It doesn’t take much looking around to find difficulty and heartache. We have it in our own circles: devastating illnesses, ongoing fights against addiction, and all sorts of troubles of varying degrees, but all with their own kinds of pain. These things are hard! Hard for us to deal with in our own lives, and hard as we try to comfort others. So many times we don’t know how to act or what to say, especially in the face of great tragedy and sorrow like Angie’s family and the Weaver family are experiencing. We want to communicate our care, but we are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, of somehow making the pain worse.


I am not an expert at any of this, but I have learned that it is better to acknowledge the pain in others than to ignore it because of our fear of messing up. Often it is as simple as following Paul’s advice from Romans 12:15, “…weep with those who weep.”


Today I weep with those who are weeping for Angie and her family. I weep with those who are so deeply missing Owen, especially his family.


And as I weep, I look to Jesus for comfort. The Bible tells us that He wept (John 11:35). He wept over the death of His friend, Lazarus.


Read the story…
“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’
When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
Jesus wept.”
John 11:17-35


My sister pointed out to me a few months ago, that Mary, the one who had loved sitting at Jesus’ feet, stayed home instead of going out to meet him like her sister. Martha went to him, but Mary stayed home. In our grief, we have different reactions. Some of us are quick to go to Jesus, ready to be with Him, even though we don’t understand why He didn’t do what we know He could have done to fix things and prevent all this pain we are feeling. Some of us stay home. In our grief and suffering, we just can’t go there. Look what Jesus did. He called for Mary. Martha told her, “The Teacher is here, and is asking for you.”


Jesus promised His disciples later in the book of John, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18 KJV)

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Psalm 34 tells us, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 CSB)


Real hope, real comfort, real healing is found in Jesus. It’s OK to ask why-Martha did. Mary did. Even Jesus did. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 CSB) We are told he cried this out with a loud voice.


Death hurts. Pain can be blinding and stop us in our tracks. We don’t understand, and we often feel betrayed and angry.


Right in the middle of all that, the Lord is near, and He is calling. He feels our pain, like He felt Mary and Martha’s pain. He weeps. He comforts. And one more thing, He promises glory if we will just believe.


After He wept with Martha and Mary, we know that He called Lazarus back to life. He is the resurrection and the life. He said to Martha in John 11:40, “Did not I tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Yes, Jesus raising Lazarus from death was glory. We don’t get that same miraculous, right now happy ending in many of our losses, but, if we believe, we will see glory. It might take a long time to get there, but it will be worth it.


When tragedy strikes, when life hurts, go to Jesus, let Him be near. Bring your questions. Believe.

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God, we hurt. We weep. We need You to be near with Your comfort. Please help us in our grief to hear you calling us out of our house. You want to weep with us and speak to us and show us Your glory. I pray that You would be present in a beautiful and powerful way with those who are today experiencing such heavy grief. I pray that You would show us how to care for them. We cry out with the praying father in Mark 9:24, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'” We believe. Help our unbelief. Our prayers are in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

-Leah

A Tribute to My Parents

“‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'” (Ephesians 6:2-3)

Imperfect parents. We all have them. No one has parents who have gotten everything perfectly right. Why is it that we tend to fixate on the imperfections instead of choosing to be grateful for the abundance of things that they did get right? Perhaps the greatest place of influence in most of our lives belongs to the two people who invested their time and energy into raising us. 

As I have pondered this, I realize that who I am today is a direct result of the character and influence of the two people in that picture – Dave and Judy Garrison, my parents. Their values, their traits, their quirks are all part of me. Some of the greatest gifts in my life are things that I learned from them. I’d love to take this opportunity to share a few of those things with you.

My Dad

Oh, how I love this guy. I have been a daddy’s girl since I can remember. If I can be even a little bit like him, that makes my heart happy. He is courageous, kind, and quietly strong. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from my dad –

Be faithful to your family. I never doubted that my dad loves my sister and me. I never doubted that he loves my mom. He has been present, and he has been faithful to our family. When we were growing up, he worked hard, but he also made time for us. As I’ve gotten older and gained some life experience, I realize that this is a priceless gift that not everyone receives. I’m thankful for this example.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)

Trust God, and persevere. My dad has been through a lot. He came from a broken home, he was diagnosed with leukemia in his 40’s, he had a high-risk bone marrow transplant, he has ongoing issues with his lungs, he had open heart surgery two days in a row, and he struggles with neuropathy and spinal stenosis. I have never heard him use any of those things as an excuse to be bitter or angry. He perseveres and usually does so with a positive attitude. He trusts God to take care of him in a way that is inspirational to me. 

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Be tactful and diplomatic. This is one of my dad’s trademarks. He is skilled at expressing his ideas in a way that is not confrontational or offensive. He listens, and he is reasonable. He is able to share his beliefs and opinions with others in a way that does not belittle them or put them off. He is a peacemaker. 

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)

My Mom

I often tell the young ladies in our church, “No one on this earth loves you as much as your mom loves you.” Think about that. It’s true. My mom and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I know in my heart that no one else in this world loves me the way she does. She is my biggest fan, and there isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for me. Here are some lessons I have learned from my mom –

Laughter is the best medicine. If you’ve ever met this precious lady, you’ve surely heard one of her jokes. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t on the hunt for a new joke to tell. It’s her way of bringing joy to others. If you laugh at one of her jokes, you’re sure to hear another one. She loves to make people laugh. I can remember one time on a vacation, my sister made a joke about someone’s zipper being afraid of heights. My mom hadn’t heard that before, and she spent hours laughing. She laughed and laughed. In our family, we all give the customary groan when she’s about to launch into a new joke, but the truth is, she has taught us all something about the value of joy and laughter.

“A joyful heart is like good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

It is better to give than to receive. My mom is a giver. If you have a need and she has a way to help meet that need, she certainly will. She gives sacrificially, and she gives without regret. Her life is marked by generosity. 

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'”. (Acts 20:35)

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Good leaders are good readers. Both my sister and I are avid readers, and we owe that to my mom. From my earliest memories, she read to us and instilled in us a love for reading. Having spent 18 years in the public school system, I have gained such an appreciation for that because I have seen the struggles in learning that come from an environment that lacks this emphasis. The latest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Reading scores indicate that only 35% of the nation’s 4th graders are able to read at a proficient level. It’s a frightening statistic. I’m grateful that I had a mom who taught me to love to read. 

My Parents

Individually, both my dad and my mom have influenced the person I am becoming. The impact they have made together also can’t be ignored. They are a team, and they have taught these lessons together –

Love God, and love others. My parents love God, and my parents love others. They taught us to love God’s Word, to love His church, and to be compassionate toward others. Yes, there are things we disagree about, but I know that their faith is genuine because of their actions. I’m thankful to have grown up with a strong foundation in the Word of God and with an understanding that true faith is accompanied by action.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:15-18)

Marriage is a lifetime commitment. My parents celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary last year. I’m so grateful for their commitment to each other. It hasn’t always been easy, but they have been there for each other through the good and bad. By God’s grace, they have kept their promises to Him and to each other. 

“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:7-8)

There’s always room for one more. When we were growing up, this was my parents’ motto. They opened their home to many people who lived with us, and they invested in those people. They understand that what they have isn’t their own, and they have always been willing to share. 

“‘Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.'” (Luke 6:38)

These are my parents. I’m so glad that God chose them for that task. I wish I could say that I have always honored them the way I should, but that wouldn’t be true. I also wish I could say that I’ve always been a pleasure to have as a daughter, but that wouldn’t be true either. What I can say is that I love them so much. I love them in spite of their imperfections, and I’m learning that they always did what they thought was best, even if they didn’t always get it right. 

Mom and Dad, thank you for these lessons you’ve taught me. Thank you for loving me completely even when I wasn’t very lovable. Thank you for the sacrifices you made, for the time you invested, for the truths you’ve modeled. Thank you for loving God and loving others well. I am so honored to be your daughter.

Dear Father, thank You for my parents. Thank You that You chose them as part of Your perfect plan to be the ones to raise me. Forgive me for spending too much time pondering the things that I think they should have done differently and for not always choosing to see the things they did so well. Forgive me also for not always being the daughter that I should be. My heart is so thankful for these parents of mine who love You and who love others. May their influence in my life produce good fruit, and may I keep learning from their example. Amen.

-Dana