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The Example of the Apostle Paul

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When it comes to serving in the local church, the Apostle Paul had much to say. However, we can also learn from his example. By example, I mean not only his actions, but his attitudes. The 2 letters written to the church in Thessalonica provide some good material to glean from Paul’s example. I have therefore identified 7 lessons that we learn from these two short epistles.

Thankfulness (1 Thess 1:2; 2:13; 2 Thess 1:3)

Paul begins both of the Thessalonian epistles with thanksgiving to God. He recognized that it was not him who instilled the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonians, but God (1 Thess 1:2–5). This is a crucial principle to follow when serving in the church. It can often be the temptation to think that success is due to our own abilities and talents. That may be true to a certain extent, but it cannot be true entirely. For it is God who gives His servants their talents and abilities. In the first epistle, Paul stated that he always continued to give thanks to God for his readers (1 Thess 1:2). In like manner he made a similar statement in the next epistle when he said that he was obligated to give thanks to God, for it was worthy (2 Thess 1:3). He knew that he could take no credit, but only thank God for such success as evidenced in the Thessalonians’ lives. This principle is also evident in 1 Thess. 2:13, where Paul thanks God for their reception of the word of God which he proclaimed. It would have been very easy for Paul to think that it was his words that these people received. However, he knew that God was responsible and not him. It is only when this perspective is kept that the Servant of God can remain humble like Paul and give continual thanks to the Lord for all that He does through us. 

Acknowledgement of the Gospel’s power (1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14)

In the context of thanksgiving, Paul reveals another crucial characteristic of ministry in the church. This is his acknowledgment of the power of the Gospel. It is the very truth of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). It came to the Thessalonians by the very power of the Holy Spirit with full assurance (1 Thess. 1:5). Again, Paul had part in leading some of these people to Christ (Acts 17). Yet, he recognizes that it is the Gospel of God that saved these people from their sins, not him. Whenever any church sees people come to Christ it, is paramount that we acknowledge that it is the power of the Gospel that releases people from the dominion of Satan, not us. Like the attitude of thankfulness, this principle must always be at the forefront of the servant of God’s thinking, or else he or she will become proud and attempt to steal the glory that is due to God alone. God will not share it (Isaiah 42:8).  

Affirmative and Exhortive (1 Thess. 1:3-5, 1:6-9; 2:14; 3:12; 4:1–12; 5:11–22; 2 Thess. 1:3-4; 2:1–12, 2:15)   

Throughout these two letters are references to affirmation along with exhortation. In 1 Thess. 1:3–5, 1:6–9, 2:14 and 2 Thess. 1:3–4, Paul affirms his readers in all that they did that was praiseworthy. He acknowledged that they had exemplified the Christian life. In 1 Thess. 3:12, 5:11–22, 2 Thess. 2:1–12 and 2:15, Paul exhorts his readers to be obedient to their calling. In 1 Thess. 4:1–12, he gives exhortation along with affirmation. The obvious pattern is that Paul clearly affirmed his readers in all that they did which was good, and yet he continued to exhort them to abound even more. Whether it is exhortation or affirmation, neither should emphasized to the neglect of the other. It is not an issue of giving a reason for pride in the hearts of believers when affirming them in their ministry, it is a matter of following the pattern of the Apostle Paul in affirming the flock and letting God take care of the issue of pride. 

An Eschatological Attitude (1 Thess.1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-5:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-10, 2:1-12)

Over and over again, Paul reminds his readers of their eschatological hope in Christ. When speaking of their conversion, Paul mentions how it secured their being saved from the wrath that was to come in 1 Thess. 1:10. In 2:19, he makes reference to the Lord’s coming in relation to his own hope and exaltation in His coming. In 4:13–5:10, Paul comforts his readers with the reality of the Lord’s coming as a basis for their hope. In 2 Thess. 1:7–10 and 2:1–12, he makes reference to His coming to judge those who oppressed them. It was a mindset that drove Paul to pen the words in these passages. Paul knew that even though we live in this world, it is not our permanent home. It is this mindset that must be possessed by we who serve in His Church. For if we have this mindset, then we will be able convey it to those who serve alongside of us.

Steadfastness Despite Suffering (1 Thess. 2:2) 

Paul and his companions had suffered much. It was the opposition to the Gospel which instigated these persecutors to buffet these servants of God. It says in this passage that even though they had suffered in Philippi before they arrived at Thessalonica, they still had the boldness in their God to preach the Gospel to the Thessalonians. The opposition which they encountered was very great as not only evidenced by Paul’s statement here, but also what we learn from Acts 16. This passage records Paul’s arrival in Philippi and how he shared the Gospel. It was then that he casted out a demon from a slave-girl who was possessed. This then caused her owners to subsequently beat Paul and Silas with rods, strip them naked, and cast them into prison. Obviously, they suffered much, but they continued to preach the Gospel, not only in Philippi, but in Thessalonica. It is this steadfastness in the midst of opposition that conveys Paul’s attitude toward ministry. He knew that souls were at stake, and that he had divine mission to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. In this world, we are bound to face much opposition. It comes from outside the Church, as well as inside. Yet, we must never relent in doing what is right, but remain steadfast as the Apostle Paul did.  

God Pleasers (1 Thess. 2:3–5)

Very much connected to the idea of persevering in the midst of opposition is the motivation to do so. This is the motivation to please God and not men. We see this principle in Paul when he says to the Thessalonians, “…so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God…” This attitude must be in the heart of anyone who serves in the church. Paul knew that the power unto salvation lied in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not in himself (Romans 1:16). He also knew that he had already been approved by God. Knowing this, it didn't matter what people thought of him or his style of ministry, for he was concerned about what God thought. This does not mean that he thought that he arrived and could not learn more, for he also recognized that God was always in the process of continually examining his heart for the sake of approval. It is also noteworthy to mention that this does not mean that Paul had no compassion for people, for the next few verses reveal his heart for people. 

Parental Attitude (1 Thess. 2:6–12, 2:17–20; 3:1–10; 4:13–18; 2 Thess. 3:14–15)

As mentioned above, Paul had a deep sense of compassion for the people of God. Even though he did ministry in the manner which pleased God, it did not mean that he ignored people and used this God-driven attitude as a vice for such a practice. After his reference to his motivation for ministry, Paul recalls his treatment of the Thessalonians with these words in 2:7: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” He goes on to say that they did not only impart the Gospel, but their own souls. These people had become very dear to the Apostle and his companions. He had a deep heart and felt compassion for them as a mother would her own children. There is no greater way to express human devotion and love. Later on in 2:17–20, he reveals his great desire to see them. In 3:1–10, he expresses his joy on hearing the news of their condition. Paul genuinely loved these people, and he was not afraid to express it. Paul also showed his affection for them, in that he continually exhorted them as a father, to walk worthy of their calling as God’s children. What a balance we see here in this beloved Apostle of God. He not only cared for those under his charge with compassion, but also with exhortation knowing that God desired them to be holy. 

 

Posted by Carlos Jerez with 0 Comments
in Books

It's Time to Get Small

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In his recent book, Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Time in Which We Live, Jim Cymbala cites the warning signs of an approaching storm for the church in America. He states, 

I believe we are in the early stages of a storm that has the potential to damage our churches, our families, and ultimately the cause of Christ in the nation. I believe followers of Jesus in America are on the cusp of something horrible. I, and many others, see the early warning signs all around. You may see them too. I want you to consider three specifically.

The Three Warning signs are:

  1. We Are Not As Big As We Think
  2. Personal Transformation is Rare
  3. Biblical Literacy is Declining

Personal Transformation is Rare

All three warning signs are relevant, but the one that jumped out at me is the second: Personal Transformation is Rare. 

Cymbala explains the symptoms of this warning sign:

In 2012, the Barna Group found that 46 percent of churchgoers said “their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing.” On top of that, “three out of five church attenders (61 percent) said they could not remember a significant new insight gained by attending church services.” What is even more bothersome is that “one-third of those who have attended a church in the past have never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting” (emphasis added).Think of it: More than half of churchgoers don’t remember even one significant new insight gained by going to God’s house! Something strange is going on here. It is obvious the overwhelming majority of our ministries are not producing much fruit in the form of converted, changed lives. And people are not experiencing God in our churches. This would have been unthinkable in the early days of the Christian church as described in the New Testament. This is a critical warning sign that something is terribly wrong.

We Are At A Turning Point

In many ways, we are approaching a generational turning point. This happens every 30 or 40 years when the old generation exits the global stage and the new generation begins to take over. It happened in 1960 when John F. Kennedy became the first president elected who was born in the 20th Century. The last shift happened in 1992 when Bill Clinton became the first Baby Boomer to become president. This election, we could be witnessing the last of the Boomer generation to lead our country. The next president, elected in 2020 or 2024, will likely be considerably younger than either party’s nominee in 2016. With generational transition comes change. The church will not be immune.

This single issue—the lack of true personal transformation— could become an obvious crisis in America. Currently, the lack of transformation within the church is hidden by the presence of many “cultural Christians,” people who attend church regularly because that’s what they have always done. Baby boomers (born 1946-1965) were Ok with this arrangement; Millennials (born 1981-2000) are not. Boomers, for the most part, were loyal to the institution of the church, while Millennials are highly individualistic and loyal to their peers, not an organization. Boomers wanted their children to participate in church because of the values taught; Millennials want their children to have as many opportunities as possible, and the church is just one among many opportunities.

Not Bigger, But Deeper

Many of today’s churches have grown accustomed to having a full house on Sundays without focusing too much on real transformation in the lives of their members and attenders. This time could be coming to an end, and, in a way, that is a good and necessary thing. In order to survive in the next decade, churches must focus on life transformation—what the Bible calls discipleship—and this happens best within the safety and familiarity of a few deep relationships.

The New Testament doesn’t tell us how to do church as much as it shows us how to do church—in small groups. Jesus didn’t start a megachurch in Jerusalem that was running thousands within three years, but he did focus his attention on 12 disciples, and within that group, he spent the most time with three—Peter, James, and John. 

The church in Acts numerically, but the Bible is clear to show us in several places that the church of the New Testament was essentially a community of small groups. The Apostle Paul aggressively planted churches, but invested in a few individuals who would carry on his work and pastor the churches he started.

In two weeks, we will begin sign ups for our 2016–17 Lighthouse Year. Real life transformation doesn’t come casually, but intentionally, and it happens best within a small group of committed friends doing life together. Watch for more information on how you can join a Lighthouse starting in September. First Family, it’s time to get small.

I'm Not, but I Know the One Who Is

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There are some days in Haiti where the hours simply fly by. I reach the end of the day, float up the steps, waltz through the door, sink onto the couch, and my heart sighs in contentment as it looks back and smiles at the joy-filled, productive, and victorious moments of the day. 

There is the stooped and wizened old man who leads me from the hot, dusty road of Leveque past the cactus fence, through the bent and angled corrugated tin gate into the cool shade of his front yard. His eyes become animated pools of simple joy as he gives me a botany lesson about each vegetable, flower, and herb in his garden, his hands gently informing, telling a story. It is the simplicity of moments and friendships like these that my heart cherishes.

There are the moments when I step on to what feels like thin ice. I sit down next to Lydia or Rosenie in a room thrumming with sewing machines and chatter, take a deep breath, attempt to draw forth the entirety of my Creole knowledge, and talk about the weekend. I listen carefully, brows furrowed, trying to discern the sounds of abbreviated and shortened words and connect what I’m hearing with the vocabulary files that feel like they are at the far, far reaches of my brain. My face relaxes and my mouth tips up into a smile as I start to put the pieces of a story together. Moments with family. Days spent cooking. Hours of laundry. Mornings filled with church. Time spent in prayer. And then it is my turn. My brain scrambles to remember grammar and syntax. Amidst smiles, encouragement, and shared laughter, I haltingly verbalize my weekend. Moments with my own Haiti family. Adventures in Port Au Prince. Sweet mornings worshiping and learning in church. I come to an end of my known Creole vocabulary and my voice trails off. They smile at me and they tell me how well I am doing with my Creole. I grin back and say that I have the best teachers with the utmost patience. We laugh, share a hug, and continue with our work. It is small victories that deeply encourage my heart.

There are moments when the joy that comes from using the gifts God has given completely overtakes my heart. 142 pastors, shepherds, spiritual leaders converge on our pastoral conference center. Framed on one side by the uninterrupted stretch of azure waves and by interminable mountains on the other, they sit, gathered around circular tables ready to learn from God’s Word. The comfortable murmur of chatter rises and falls as I make my way towards a table where chatter does not break the air with vibrations of sound, but instead cuts through physical space with hands that are transformed into tools of communication. Three Deaf pastors are joining the training, and I, along with another interpreter, have the privilege of opening the door to communication access. Old Testament survey. New Testament survey. The authority of Scripture. How to understand the words of God. Questions. Answers. Prayer. Worship. My heart swells with gratitude as I see the light of comprehension on the upturned faces before me, the nods, the knowing smiles. Here are three pastors who will take the light of understanding, the light of truth, the brilliant light of the Messiah to which Scripture points to their churches, to the people of their village. Facilitating understanding for the ultimate end of spreading God’s glorious gospel... this is the best kind of productivity.

But then there are other days, when I reach the end of the day, drag myself up the steps, trudge through the door, collapse onto the couch and my heart laments the frustrations, calamities, and difficulties that have passed. 

There is the rough, calloused hand that grabs my own hand, noticeably absent of callouses, and pulls me to a front door that has recently been marred. There is something missing. The lock, meant to keep the safety and comfort of home in and the danger of disorder and peril out, has been destroyed. The door looks vulnerable, bereft of its shield, telling a story of loss. I turn and listen to the story unfolding from the hands of a beautiful, resilient, aged woman with streaks of black peaking through the striking white hair pulled behind her head. There is no vulnerability in that face; only strength and simple peace that echoes the story of trust in God amidst the suffering that her hands so quietly tell me. She drops her hands, her story told, and I smile and thank her for her hospitality. I squeeze her hand, turn to go, and catch her eyes one last time. The question floats between us, unvoiced but looming. Can’t you help me? My heart catches as I feel the weight of being white and hearing come crashing through my equilibrium. 

There are other moments when the question is voiced. I sit across from Guy, merriment spilling from eyes where I can see the wheels turning, anticipating the next moment to make me smile with a clever quip. I laugh out loud as he looks at me slyly, his hands unfolding for my eyes a story of exaggerated proportions. He leans back in his chair and grins in satisfaction, and then the amusement is replaced by concern as he tells me about the people in his village, members of the Deaf community. The frustrations and difficulties pour off of his hands. Water. Jobs. Commuting. Safety. Theft. Discrimination. And then his head tips forward, his face even graver than before. What do I think about this? My brain goes silent. And then the call to action. What can I do to solve these problems? And my heart again bows under the expectations that come with the color of my skin and the ability to hear.

There are the moments where grief and sorrow rip through the heart. It’s Friday and I find myself in a church sitting on a bench next to my friend. We are the minority here. Like two small flecks of sugar that accidentally got thrown in with coffee grounds. The pastor’s voice rises, falls, stops, and a young woman in the front rises to her feet. She squares her shoulders, turns, and I look into the broken and wounded eyes of one of our employees and friends. I am at a funeral for her mother. The ache to understand the purpose in the loss of life is almost palpable.

There are such highs and such lows. Extremes on the spectrum of emotions. And as that spectrum starts to tilt and tumble from the heights, I can hear whispers of defeat.

The need is too great and you are too small.

The hurt is too deep and you are not equipped for this ministry.

You are not in the right place. You are not meant to be here.

How easy it is to blindly believe the lies of the enemy. But as I center my heart on the timeless, ancient words of Scripture, I find the lies dissolving in the face of truth. I hear the quiet reassurance of the Spirit.

Friend, I see the great need. Know that I am greater.

Beloved, I am the healer of all hurts and have equipped you for every good work through my Word. My power is perfected in your weakness.

Child, I knew you before the foundations of the world were put in place. I am holding you in the palm of my hand.

The wild worry and ache of my heart calms as I rest in truth. Truth that I am not the healer of broken hearts. But I know One who is. Truth that I cannot heal the hurts of the world. But I know One who can. Truth that my presence cannot bring peace. But I know the Prince of Peace. Truth that I cannot inherently instill hope. But I know One who is hope. Truth that I am powerless to use something evil for good. But I know One whose power is limitless. Truth that I cannot grasp the big picture plan. But I know One whose understanding is infinite. And He is good. He is faithful. His heart is kind.

My heart again sighs with contentment as the frustrations, calamities, and disappointments find their divinely appointed purpose in Christ. The victorious and joy-filled moments are juxtaposed with difficult, painful days. It’s a trade-off. And I find myself thankful for both sides of the trade.

Less is More

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Stuff. It’s always there, always needing to be dealt with, always adding to my to-do list. I was getting sick of the “stuff”. We have 4 kids and live in a modest-sized home, and if you came over for a visit, you would not think we have a lot of “stuff”, but we did. It was hidden in the nooks and crannies, closets and build-ins of our home, away for the eyes of our visitors. But I knew it was there, and I knew it needed to be dealt with.

After being inspired by a book on tidying, and after years of wanting to get our house in order, I made arrangements for people to help with the kids so they would be out of the house for an entire day so I could focus.

It was overwhelming at first––the thought of going through clothing for 6 people, books, toys, papers, photos, etc. After I got into the groove of things, and really started discarding things we truly do not need or even want in same cases, I felt an incredible lightness and release. We don’t need this stuff. What an incredible realization.

In fact, there isn’t a ton we actually “need” to live this life.

I think we all can admit that we have things in our homes that we don’t need, want, or even like.

But what about your spiritual life? Do you have things hidden in the corners of your heart and mind that need to be released? Things that need to be dealt with?

We all do.

You are not alone if there are deep secrets that hang over your life like a heavy blanket.

It's time to deal with it and live a life of freedom and lightness. That is what God wants for us. Rest is found in Him and Him alone. So how do you do that? For me, it is verbalizing my struggling to a trusted friend or my husband, it is praying about it fervently, it is releasing old ways of living, and turning from sin.

For you, it may be different. Maybe you need to seek help from a pastor or small group leader. Maybe you need to meet with a counselor or therapist.

Whatever it is, DO IT now.

Don’t live in darkness and heaviness. Get rid of the things that weigh you down. Find peace in Him. Then, you'll have the energy, time and love to help and love on others, and you will be truly blessed!

 

Psalms 51:10 - Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

2 Corinthians 7:1 - Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

in Blogs

Selfish Regrets and Irrational Wishes

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As humans, we are prone to worrying and stressing about life in the present and future leading to holistic negative effects, yet I have found myself also dwelling on memories of decisions and situations I wish would have turned out differently in order to yield results I think would have been better for my life or others’ lives. Everyone has had times of dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’ of life when we think, 

“I should have taken the other job.” 
“Life would be better if that would have happened sooner/later.” 
“If we had moved there, then we would be happier.” 

To be clear, I am not referring to tragic events which can continue to produce grieving, sorrow, and righteous anger throughout our time on Earth, nor am I addressing regrets of sin. Sin is a different topic that deals with conviction leading to repentance and freedom of guilt and regret due to Christ's atoning sacrifice and continual intersession on our behalf before the Father. If you struggle with the unnecessary regret of past sin for which Christ has already forgiven you, remember the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the freedom he gives. 

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Satan will use our life regrets and wishes as an opportunity to turn us away from focusing on God’s will for our lives and our future prize, Jesus. Hebrews 12:1–2, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” 

To fight these regrets and wishes, we must review our Christian worldview. God always gives me peace when I go back to the not-so-basic basics of who God is and how He sovereignly carries out His will globally and for us individually. His way is always better despite our personal feelings and opinions. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Wishing things had turned out differently misinterprets God’s providence because the root of our wish is saying that our plan would have been better than God’s plan. 

If we settle in this state of frustration that our way did not turn out the way we intended, our heart and thoughts will spiral into the cycle of self centeredness, self-pity, comparison, and discontentment with where God has us in the present. These steal our satisfaction in our Maker and turn our focus to ourselves rather than others’ needs and the works God has planned for us (Ephesians 2:10). We are attempting to be satisfied by worldly wisdom instead of relying on the wisdom from above as James speaks of in chapter 3:13–18. The comparison and covetousness then put us at risk for quarreling and adultery as he explains next in James 4:1–5. 

“But he gives more grace” James 4:6 tells us, so in lieu of falling into the thoughts of what “should” have been, ask God to help you remember: 

  • The faithfulness he has rendered to you and will continue to provide in the future. 
  • All aspects of your life are being used by God for your sanctification and discipline. 
  • His good mercy has protected you from temptation, sin, disaster, and additional suffering because your way didn’t play out. 

“God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.” –Tim Keller

 
in Blogs

Trending Reads | July

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Welcome to Trending Reads, a monthly post from Pastor Travis Walker that includes current articles on all things Christianity, as well as blog posts that will help you grow in your Christian walk. Without further adieu:

How to read the Bible with Gospel eyes

One of the best practices for those who want to make sure that they are gospel-centered everyday—that they are looking into the grace of God in Christ—is to look for Christ in the Scriptures

Most Christians understand that they ought to be spending time in God’s Word everyday but a lot of times that can just look like a checklist of religious duty. No matter what biblical text you’re in, it is important to look for the gospel and Jesus within it. This can be a little harder in the Old Testament and even in some New Testament texts. However, the aim is rather simple: look first and foremost for what God has done, notwhat you are to do...

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Why Teenagers need theology

The world can be really confusing for teenagers. We’re coming of age in a shifting moral landscape, where the most pressing challenges and culture’s loudest critics are ever changing and perpetually conflicting. We see scandals and soundbytes, terrorism and Trump, new sexual ethics and harsh racial tensions, and we wonder, How am I supposed to think about all this?

Secular society throws its own answers our way, but they’re never compatible with a Christian worldview.

I see a better tool to meet the questions of Christ-following teenagers like me: theology...

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Why are we so busy?

Boredom used to be a regular feature in my life.

As a kid, I was bored all the time. This perpetual boredom led me to all sorts of shenanigans, like setting the soles of my shoes on fire or digging a 4-foot deep hole in my backyard, simply because I could (kind of like George Mallory summiting Everest simply because it was there). My discovery that grapevines could be smoked like cigarettes was a direct product of the high volume of boredom in my life.

Even as I got older, I still had long stints of unoccupation. Walking to classes in college. Waiting for a computer program to compile [adjusts glasses and fiddles with pocket protector]. Long drives, doctors offices, waiting 10 freaking minutes for the America Online portal to load (I think I still have several hundred free hours to redeem).

Now I’m literally never bored...

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Why we need to read the Bible like we read other books

As I set aside my Bible reading plan this year in favor of soaking in shorter passages, I realized that I didn’t need to choose between the two—nor did I want to! The benefits and joy of journeying the entire way through God’s salvation story are too good to miss, so I decided to do both.

Last year was the first time I had used a pre-made reading schedule (pdf courtesy of Ligonier Ministries), and it was helpful in numerous ways. I’d encourage you to go through the entire Bible for these 17 reasons:..

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Finding Rest and Retreat in Christ

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My husband and I recently sat down and calculated the number of baseball games we’ve attended for our boys. The number was somewhere in the mid seventies, and the season isn’t quite over. We have three sons who all play Little League, and one who is currently on another team as well. (Go Outlaws!!)

So, roughly seventy times, I’ve washed uniforms, packed snacks, filled water jugs, and applied sunscreen or winter hats depending on the fickle Iowa weather. I’ve nursed skinned knees, disappointed hearts and wounded pride. Baseball season has worn me out physically and emotionally.

I’ve recently found myself without a smile on my face, and choking on my next breath out of sheer exhaustion. I feel as though I have nothing left to give at the end of the day, and that feeling usually carries over to the next morning. We’ve stretched ourselves to the max, and I’ve got no more bend in me.

I’ve heard the same things from other people lately too.

“I feel like I’m chasing my own tail.”  

“I don’t know if I’m coming or if I’m going.”

“Is my chest supposed to feel this tight all the time?”

“I can’t remember the last time I laughed. I have no more joy left.”

This life has worn us ragged. We’ve undoubtedly said “yes” to too many things and haven’t put healthy boundaries around sacred things. We’ve skipped prayer and quiet time to cram in the unexpected, because we are completely out of any sort of margin in life. My quiet time the other day was spent using my carpet cleaner on an unexpected pet mess. There went my “extra” thirty minutes of the day. Another thirty wasn’t to be found, and my time budget was already in the red.

Friends, I’ve had restroom accidents three times in the past two weeks. Literally. Because I am cutting things so close, I end up making it to the bathroom a bit too late. I think to myself, “I don’t need to go before leaving the ballfields  because I have to drop this kiddo off at home in the next ten minutes. I’ll just go when I get home.” It’s true... I’m not even giving myself time for my own bodily functions, and friends, the scary thing is, I know I’m not the only one. I have verbal confirmation on this.

So what gives? How do we find the right balance?

I don’t know.

I think the “fix” looks different for everyone. Every individual, couple, and family has to make decisions about schedules and commitments for themselves. This unfortunately isn’t a four step solution. However, one thing I know is true and good is the promise we have from our Savior about His abundant streams of rest and grace.

Before Jesus went to the cross to be crucified, He sought out time alone with his Father... our Father (Matt 26:36–46). Scripture says Jesus was sorrowful and troubled. However, rather than hashing out his problems with his friends, he walked away from the noise, from His companions, from the task, and talked with God.

He asked Him questions, laid out His fears, and begged for His mercy.

He let God speak the salve of peace to his burdened, unto death, heart.

He rested in the One who had the answers to the whys and the what ifs.

So in the days to come, I am committing to a few things. First, I will go to the bathroom when the urge first hits. And second, I’m going to rest at the feet of my Savior who is so capable of managing my weakness. He’s so eager to restore my soul. He’s so incredibly good. I’ll breathe in His gentle words. I’ll trust in His historically grounded promises. I’ll let my Creator nurture my weary heart.

And in all my frailty, I’ll listen and obey.

Posted by Marti Skow with 0 Comments

"But I Can't Forgive"

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“You don’t understand. I simply can’t forgive him.”

There have been multiple times while working with people who have been hurt deeply that I have been told this exact thing. The person would insist that forgiveness was not possible. 

As I have explored the why behind someone making this bold statement, I realized there is more than just resentment and bitterness behind the words. At first, I often thought the person was just choosing to be hateful instead of embracing what was best for them and mandated by our understanding Lord. I thought I was seeing the results of a cold heart and unloving spirit showing its ugly head, despite the reminders of God’s forgiveness toward us for every sin we have or will ever commit. 

However, what I discovered, in many cases, was that these dear people didn’t understand what forgiveness really meant.

Many of us have heard the catchy phrase, “forgive and forget.” So much so, that people have started to equivocate the two words, thinking that forgetting is the same as forgiving. They aren’t the same! 

I realized that some people were saying they couldn’t forgive because they knew they couldn’t forget what was done to them, at least not anytime soon, and perhaps never. They were being honest in admitting that they couldn’t commit to forgetting something they knew they weren’t going to; and they were totally right. Unless you have brain surgery or something of the sort, you aren’t going to be able to simply forget a memory you have stored away. 

One reason I was forced to explore their reasoning further was because God promises that when we face temptation to sin, He will always give us a way out so that we don’t have to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). If that is true, then it couldn’t be true that these people couldn’t forgive, since God has commanded us to forgive others.

The problem was the fact that they thought they had to forget in order to forgive.

It was so freeing to them when they realized that forgetting had nothing to do with it. Our goal is to be like Christ, who is God incarnate. Does God forget our sin? No. He is God. God is omniscient (knows all). He doesn’t all of the sudden just “forget” our sin. He chooses not to recall it (Isaiah 43:25).

So if forgiveness isn’t forgetting, what exactly is it? Well, what does God do with our sin if He doesn’t forget it? He no longer holds it against us. He doesn’t bring it back to us and shove it in our faces (Psalms 103:12). Forgiveness is committing never to bring that sin up again for that person’s harm. That includes not bringing it back up to that person, others, or yourself. That is still quite a lot to swallow. Clarifying forgiveness doesn’t make it easy, but definitely doable. 

On a practical level, that means that when you forgive someone, you are not allowed to remind them of it again. You are not allowed to talk about what they did with other people in a way that would be harmful to them. You are not allowed to dwell on it yourself.

Now this is where the difference between forgetting and dwelling on it comes in. It isn’t wrong to remember it (you can’t help it), but you aren’t allowed to continue thinking about it when you remember it. You can’t replay it over and over, and remember how angry it made you feel, and consider the best ways of revenge, etc. When the memory returns, strive to remember that you’ve committed to forgive them just like God has forgiven you, and then move on to a new topic of thought. Not always easy, but right and best.

There can be times to bring that sin up to that person again, if there is a recurring pattern, but that would be an example of bringing it up not for their harm, but in order to help them see a pattern of sin in their life that needs to be addressed. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to forgive it, but we could rightly bring it up in order to help them be more like Christ by changing that pattern in their life.      

Thank the One who not only gives us commands that are best for us and show His beautiful character, but also gives us the ability to follow them. Committing not to bring up a sin to someone, others, or yourself in order to harm the offender is one of the ways God brings peace to us that is beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7).

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