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To Prune or Not to Prune

by Jonni Sliver

May I introduce you to another arboreal friend? I call this the Flame tree, because each branch looks like a, well, flame (at least in my fertile imagination.) Recently I was at a friend’s house, admiring the tree, just across the road from her house. She told me that as pretty as the tree is, it requires a lot of work to keep it that way. From early on the young tree needs to be formed and certain branches cut off so that the tree would grow straight. As the tree became larger and stronger it continues to need pruning – if weak, misplaced branches aren’t removed the trunk of the tree could divide. The result would be an adult tree with a weak structure that could easily be damaged in a bad storm. But if properly cared for, the tree grows strong and beautiful and provides abundant shade on hot summer days.

It’s funny how much that spoke to me. Pruning is an important part of the Christian life. According to the dictionary,  pruning is defined as: to “cut away what is unwanted or superfluous.”  As a new believer I knew that there was a whole lot of superfluous matter to be removed from my heart, mind, and in the way I live my life day-to-day.  But as time goes by somehow we get the idea that we have learned all we need to learn, that we are full-grown, that we no longer need to be pruned – and that is when we hit dangerous ground. Like my Flame tree, sometimes the most important pruning has to take place later on, when we appear to have grown up. Inconvenient attitudes, habits and behaviors may seem insignificant to others (or to us!), but if they remain they can bring division and weakness into our spiritual lives. The result can be devastating. Almost all of us have had a close friend or relative who seemed to have a strong faith and a deep love for the Lord, when all of a sudden they fall. Sometimes they get back up, broken but seeking, others times they remain fallen, resisting every effort to bind them up.

It is easy somehow to associate pruning with punishment, but they are not the same thing at all. God prunes us out of His grace, not His anger. As a matter of fact in Isaiah 5:6 the Lord says that when we stop listening, stop obeying, stop receiving from the Lord, He will stop pruning us! The punishment is to not be pruned!

I won’t go into details, but as I thought about my Flame tree I have become aware of more than one twig in my life that is not convenient, not a blessing. I have actually been asking the Father to do some pruning on me, and I am pretty sure that is why He pointed out the Flame tree to me in the first place!

Remember

by Sarah Langness

There’s a 28 mile stretch of highway that connects Beulah to Interstate 94. This stretch is filled with memories for me. Like the times I headed back to Fargo after a weekend at the Lake with my good friend Sam. Like the time I had to drive in the southbound lane when I was actually headed north because the snow, wind and drifts made the road impassable at points. Or like the one time when I had to pull off and take a nap at the start of a trip to visit my friend Carmen because my 6-week-old pregnant self demanded afternoon naps. All these memories and more came to remembrance as I wound up and down the hills.

Remembering is good. Sometimes it is difficult, even painful. But as we look back and remember, we see how the Lord has provided. How He has protected. How He has gifted. How He has blessed. How He has been.

Throughout His Word, the Lord encourages us to remember. One example can be found after the Israelites finally crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The LORD told the Israelites to erect memorial stones once they reached Canaan to remember what He did for them.

“‘. . .Each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. Let this be a sign for you, so that when your children ask later, saying, “What do these stones mean to you?” then you shall say to them, “Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.” So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.'” – Joshua 4:5-7 (emphasis mine)

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget. Sometimes it may temporarily seem best to forget. But as we remember events, people, places and circumstances that we have faced, we see His hand. At the time of the trial, at the moment of heartache, or in the midst of the joy, we can sometimes overlook the Lord. This isn’t what He would have us to do.

What do our modern-day memorial stones look like? Maybe it’s a photo, or an entire photo album. Maybe it’s journaling. Maybe it’s simply taking time every once in a while to stop and reflect.

And in our remembering, may we always bring back all thanks and praise to the One who has indeed provided, protected, gifted, blessed and been ever-present with us.

“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure’,” – Isaiah 46:9-10

Running the Race

by Velma Amundson

My husband based his sermon this morning on Philippians 3:13-14

“…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.”

In his sermon, he told the story of a Special Olympics race where one of the contestants fell. When the other racers realized what had happened, they all stopped, went back and picked up their companion, held hands and walked to the finish line together.

I can not run this race alone by myself. Neither can you. No matter how hard we strive we can’t do it alone. First, of course, we need Christ. We need his forgiveness, yes, but we also need his strength. The old song says it, “Leaning on Jesus”. Another thing we need is each other. There are times when we are weak, perhaps with a burden, or a temptation. I know that I feel that way sometimes. And I have to confess to God, “I can’t do this right now.”  He always sends someone to help.

We all know others who are struggling, perhaps with health problems, financial, temptations. We need to reach out to them and let them know they are not alone in this race. We are commanded to pray for each other. God knew we couldn’t do it alone. So, I pray that God will bless and strengthen you in whatever struggles you may have. I think we need to be like that Special Olympics team, we need to hold each other’s hands as we race together to the finish line.

What’s Your Standard?

by Sarah Nelson

As Christians we are blessed abundantly.  One of our greatest blessings is having the living, active, God-breathed Word in our hands when we open our Bible and read His message for us.   It is a source of comfort, guidance, and wisdom.  As it says of itself, God’s Word is perfect and sufficient for each one of us.  Many of us have multiple copies of Scripture in various translations to feed and nourish our souls.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We are also blessed with many resources that also can encourage us in our walk with God.  Go to nearly any mall and you will find a Christian bookstore filled with marvelous music, dynamic books, spiritual films and Christian artwork to fill our hearts and homes.   May I encourage you today, as I challenge myself, to compare what is offered by even the most well-intentioned of sources with the written, infallible, Word of God?   Does the teaching within a song, book, or movie, detract or go above what the Word teaches?  Does it make us simply feel good, or shamed, complete, or lacking?  Or does it instead point us to the Scriptural truth that we are sinners, saved by grace, and grace alone?

The American College dictionary defines the word standard as follows: Standard – An authoritative model or measure, a pattern for guidance,by comparison with which the quantity, excellence, correctness etc. of other things may be determined.

Sisters, we must always have God’s Word as our standard for living the Christian life.   His Word never changes, yet is ever new.  His Word is always trustworthy, even when our emotions are not.  His Word points us to Him, and what He did on the cross, and not to ourselves and what we have done.  There are many resources that can aid us in our spiritual journey, but they must always echo the standard of truth found in God’s Word.

An old Sunday School song comes to mind, will you sing it with me?  “The B-I-B-L-E, Yes that’s the book for me!  I stand alone, on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!”  God’s Word, it is a firm and solid place on which to base our lives.  It is a proven standard in which we can fully trust as being God’s message for yesterday, today, and for all time.

Filled With Joy

by Sarah Langness

You know what I love? I love the sound of my baby boy’s giggle when he rides on his daddy’s shoulders. I love the pure joy that lights up his face after I round the kitchen island in a game of peek-a-boo chase. I love hearing him make truck sounds as he pushes anything with a wheel. As a mom, hearing those sounds – as well as the countless other babbles, screeches, and songs – fills my heart with joy. I never get tired of it. And I can’t help but think that maybe the Lord feels the same way.

Maybe the same joy that I experience as I watch my son explore, giggle, learn and grow is the same joy that fills the Lord’s heart as we follow Him – as we truly follow Him. As we put feet to our faith. As we love on those who go unnoticed. As we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

I know we don’t do good deeds to earn God’s favor. We can’t earn our salvation based on the number of times we made Him smile. His love for us isn’t based upon such things. But I can’t help but think His heart is filled with joy as we carry the love of Jesus to the world. As we live as His hands and feet. As we obey even when it’s difficult.

So, how about we put a smile on our Father’s face today?

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth . . .” – 1 John 3:18-19

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” – 3 John 1:4

Attitude Adjustment?

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Jonni and Emily

by Jonni Sliver

Sometimes I struggle to maintain a “Christian Attitude”. I know that doesn’t sound good coming from a missionary. I also know that my battle is not against flesh and blood, and that the families of the children we receive are sought after by the Spirit of God, the same as the children are. But there are times when the reality of what has been done to our little ones is just more than I can handle.

Emily is two and a half years old. She is an absolute princess – lovely, sweet, smart as a whip and affectionate and funny. She has been with us for nearly three months but it is just the last month that we have been able to  see a lot of those qualities because she arrived in a state of near panic, trusting no one – step by step she opened her little heart to first one of the house moms, then another. Today she is open and trusting in all of us. That is why I was able to take her to a clinic this week to have tests run, this sweet little lady squeezed my fingers  as the nurse drew blood and giggled as I turned a rubber glove into a balloon for her.

That giggle filled my heart but didn’t take away the anger because of why we were there.  The tests are for HIV, Hepatitus B and C, and Syphilis (I mentioned she is 2 and a half, didn’t I?). She is with us because her father treated her in forms I can’t even talk about. She is also with us because her grandparents, who say they love their grand baby, feared their son more, and so let him take Emily for visits, even though the child cried and begged them to not go. Emily learned that adults can’t to be trusted.

Recently my devotional reading was in Exodus 22. The chapter is basic law, pretty cut and dry: if this happens, this is the penalty. That is until you get to verses 22-24:  

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”  

When talking about the defenseless, God takes the situation personally. He hears, His anger is aroused, He acts! As I read those words I felt something being released in my heart. God understood my struggles with my attitude. He understands my anger, because what Emily has gone through angers His heart too! On the other hand, He doesn’t ask me to act out my anger against what Emily’s father has done. He is able to settle accounts; He is responsible for bringing justice. What the Lord has asked me (us) to do is to minister His healing, His grace into Emily’s life (and all of our children’s hearts, no matter their age or scars). And that work is our privilege!

Editor’s note:  Jonni recently let us know that this precious little Emily’s tests all came back negative!  Praise God!

Time Is Not On My Side

by Sarah Langness

I’ve never been a big fan of change. I didn’t like that year when my brother lived in Florida, over 1800 miles from me in Fargo. That stunk. I also didn’t like the change that came with moving out to western North Dakota. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade being married to Jordan for anything; but when your closest friends are a minimum of 250 miles away, others 500 miles away – it’s tough. But if I could do it all again, there would be things I would change in the change. Like when I moved out to Beulah, I wouldn’t have waited to invest in friendships, in relationships. Because you know what? Time is not on my side.

Jenna was married the same summer that I was. She and her husband live up the street. For the past three and a half years, I could walk up to her house and count the other houses I passed on two hands. But ya know what? I wasted a lot of time in the last three and a half years. Maybe it’s because I had this faulty thinking of a newlywed who believed the only friend they needed was their spouse. Maybe it’s because I thought the friends I had from AFLBS were so great I didn’t need any other friends. Maybe it’s because I felt like a scared middle schooler wanting the cool girl to be her friend. I don’t know. But it wasn’t until this last year that my friendship with Jenna really seemed to take root and grow.

And now, Jenna’s moving.

I hate that I wasted that time. If I could go back to 2009, I would change a lot of things over the course of the next three years. I wouldn’t take for granted that such a good friend would live so near. But unfortunately, I can’t go back. I can only make use of the time that I have now. I can only make better investments in friendships now. I can only be bold and intentional in creating new relationships now.

So that young couple we met the other night? I guess I shouldn’t just keep her number in my phone – I should call her, text her, have a play-date with her. Our neighbors across the street? I shouldn’t just wish I knew them – I should bring over some cookies, invite them to our place for a game night. That family from church who always seems to encourage me? I shouldn’t just think about how grateful I am for them – I should tell them, thank them for being a blessing.

” …[make] the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:16

“So then while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:10

It’s too easy to think that we’ve got time. So we wait to invest, wait to engage, wait to bless. But in waiting, we waste so much. Because you know what? Time is not on our side.