His Eye

By Jonni Sliver

I had one of the happiest experiences in a long time yesterday.  It involves a precious young lady I have kind of adopted. Her name is Cris and she is here with her husband, John and daughter Leota for a short time (relatively speaking, they will be here almost six months when they leave). She is nearly eight months pregnant and they to have their second baby here in Brazil because John and Cris hope to return permanently when John retires.  For right now, Cris needs a little extra support because John had to return to work for six weeks (he works as an engineer on oil rigs, his current assignment is in Singapore). So Cris is here with a two year old princess, a big tummy and as much Portuguese as you can learn in two months.

I have been trying to be a good aunty to Cris – taking her shopping, helping her make new friends, getting her language lessons, and just plain visiting! One of the more important little jobs I have had has been taking her to doctor appointments, and I finally come to the blessing I received yesterday! Cris needed one more ultra-sound, and as she doesn’t speak medical Portuguese, I went with. I have seen ultra-sounds before, but it has been a while. I was so amazed to see Faith Karen’s (this precious new baby’s name) face on the screen, as clear as a photograph! Her cute little nose, her hand pressed against her cheek, she even wiggled her fingers at us (I am positive she knew she was posing for photos!). It was amazing to see this little one, still in the womb, almost ready to join us!

I have mentioned before that Psalm 139 is one of my favorite texts;  you can imagine how that passage came to mind! Seeing this precious little one is a gift from God, who gave talents and intelligence to men to create something like an ultra-sound, but none of this is a novelty for our Father. He has seen each one of us as we were being formed, as He knit us in our mothers’ wombs. Yesterday I saw just a glimpse, but the Father’s eye has been on this little girl since before her mother knew she was being carried!

Faith Karen hasn’t done a single thing to earn God’s favor, but His hand of blessing is on her and He has already dreamed great dreams for her. Do you ever feel like you haven’t done enough, or you aren’t important enough to warrant God’s grace and favor? You are correct – you haven’t warranted it, but you have it just the same! The Father loves you with an eternal love. When you lie down tonight He will be with you, when you wake in the morning He will still be there; your frame is ever before Him and he doesn’t even need an ultra-sound to see you!

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GIVING GOOD GIFTS

By Sarah Langness

Our son loves tractors. Well, to be honest, he loves trucks and cars and machines with a motor of any kind. But tractors are definitely on the top five list of coolest things he’s ever seen. So the other day, when I was flipping through the Shopko ad and came to the “TOY SALE: Buy one Get one Half Off!” page, it was no surprise when Ezekiel instantly spotted the “green tractor!”. There were many other toys sprawled across these two pages of magazine, but Zeke only had eyes for that tractor.

And to be honest, I really wanted to buy it for him. Because I know how much he loves tractors. And how that tractor (which was pulling a trailer!) would bring him joy.

But I didn’t. Because we have plenty of other tractors, trucks and cars in our house. Because I don’t want our son to think that he can have everything he wants and/or sees. Because Christmas is a little over two weeks away and I am confident there are a couple of Grandma’s who probably bought our little man some new trucks. So Zeke kept the magazine for a couple of days, looked at the tractor, and when we went to Shopko to get gifts for the Angel Tree, we made a mad dash through that toy aisle.

As I thought about this desire I had to buy Ezekiel that new tractor, I couldn’t help but think of these words from Jesus:

“‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?'” – Matthew 7:7-11, NASB (emphasis mine)

Our God is good. We need look no further than a manger in Bethlehem and a cross on Calvary and an empty tomb to remember that.

He knows our needs. He knows the desires of our heart. And He knows what is best for us. Just because He withholds does not mean He is absent, deaf, or unloving. Our Father is simply doing what is best for us.

Teaching us as we wait upon Him. Learning to be content with what we have. Leaning upon Him for strength. Looking to Him to provide grace for the moment. Trusting Him to meet our needs.

“Every good thing and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” – James 1:17, NASB (emphasis mine)

“Who Do You Work For?”

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24

I’m sharing my struggle with those of you who know what it is to struggle with craving acceptance. The desire, or even compulsion, to want to make everyone in your life happy motivates you, and depletes you, at the same time.

The past few months I have had some professional help identifying, and then asking God to bring healing to the broken places of my life. It is a journey I am still on, and one that while it has exhausted me at times, is allowing my mind and heart to see some things for what they are (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in my life.

My lesson to date can be summed up as this – when I make pleasing my family, my friends, my church, my community (both near and far) the top priority in my life I am NOT helping anyone, nor am I living the life that God has given me to live for His glory. You see, as soon as I please one person, maybe even five or ten at the same time, I’m inevitably disappointing someone else. Then I get on the crazy cycle of trying to please those whom I’ve disappointed, only to let down others. And it goes on, and on, and on.

When I get on this people pleasing frenzy, I am saying to God, and saying to others, that they have a more important role in my life than He does. I’ve run into this truth up front and personally this week. It has not been fun. It has made me think all the time I’ve invested into being a wife, mom, pastor’s wife, friend, and more have been a waste. What a lie that is. It is a lie I don’t want to live. I know that my life does matter. Not because of me, but because of Who made me.

So my fellow people pleasers, would you join me in putting First things first in our lives? Loving others in the process, but realizing that our value does not come from them, it comes from the One who made us.

Wasps and the Love of God

by Sarah Langness

I know there’s going to be many who don’t like me for saying this, but truth is: I’m ready for a good, hard freeze.

It could have something to do with the fact that I have tomatoes coming out of my fingernails and toenails, and if it freezes, well, I guess we’ll just have to be satisfied with the 30+ pints of salsa and 10+ pints of pizza sauce already made. It could have something to do with the near 100 degree heat last Friday and me feeling tired of feeling hot. Mostly, though, it has to do with bees and wasps and flies: it can freeze so they all die. (Harsh, I know.) But  one of my biggest summertime nightmares as a momma came true on Sunday: Ezekiel was stung by a wasp. Right on his temple.

Poor little guy.

I’m grateful that since it happened, it happened at a time when Jordan was home. While Zeke cried in pain and I cried because my baby was in pain, Jordan was the logical, level-headed one. And thankfully, nothing more happened to Zeke: no allergic reaction and within fifteen minutes he had stopped crying and began playing with his trucks like nothing had even happened.

All the while, I kept wishing that the stupid wasp had stung me instead. I would have gladly taken away that pain from my little sixteen-month old.

And then I started thinking about God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the pain bestowed upon Him on my behalf.

God the Father allowed His Son to be beaten. To be humiliated. To be become sin. To die.

Because He loves me.   

What kind of love is that? 

 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16, NASB (emphasis mine)  

 

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all . . . ” – Romans 8:32, NASB (emphasis mine)  

 

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” – Galatians 4:4-5, NASB (emphasis mine)

I’m grateful God loves us the way He does. Not the way I love. Because I would have protected my son. I wouldn’t want to see him suffer. Praise God He loved us enough to let His Son suffer in our place so that we have a home with Him.

He Knows Us and Loves Us

by Sarah Nelson

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
 You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.”  Psalm 139:1-4  (ESV)

Have you ever been misunderstood?   Your best intentions misinterpreted as something less than good?  Do you ever wonder if anyone really “gets” you?  Does it seem sometimes like your life is invisible?   If so, I encourage you to read not just the above verses from Psalm 139, but all of the psalm.

Who knows you best?  We may think that maybe it is our husband, parent, best friend, or a sibling.  While all of these people indeed know much about us, there is only One who knows us so well that He even knows what word we will speak before it comes out of our mouths. The Lord knows the activities of our hours, the thoughts that run through our heads that not even we understand why they are there.

Knowing that our Creator knows us so intimately and loves us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us from not just the sins that others see, but the ones that only His eyes capture, is amazing.  He desires for us to truly know that our lives are “hemmed in, behind and before” by HIM.  His hand of blessing is upon our heads as they bow in recognition of His majesty.

It’s true – He knows us and loves us!  Let that truth take root in your heart and encourage you as you live the days He has appointed for you to walk in His grace, for His glory.

God Knows Us

by Velma Amundson

I thought I knew exactly where this blog was going this morning. And, I was exactly wrong…or only partially right.

It’s been an interesting week, or day. We’ve literally gone from birth to death…all in one day. Kind of changes things. But not really.

In March our son called to tell us he and his wife were expecting in November. Today he called to say they are having a little girl. I thought of this verse:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5

I thought, isn’t it nice to know that God already knows my granddaughter!  Even before she is born He already cares for her and loves her. Of course, we pray daily that He will watch over her and her mother, to keep them safe and for a safe and healthy delivery. After she is born, we will have the pleasure and duty to be sure that she knows God. That’s true for all of us. Even before we were born, God knew us. I like to think that while we were nestled beneath our mother’s heart, God spoke to us. I know it’s a bit of fancy, but it could be.

Then there is the promise that God walks with us daily and has plans for us. In Jeremiah 29:11 we are told:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

God plans good things for us. Even the trials that we go through are to strengthen us and make us fit for Him. I know He walks with me, and I know that He will walk with my new granddaughter-to-be. I know that whatever we face, we face it with God at our side.

Which leaves the final journey. John had a call yesterday that one of our parishioners had fallen and broken his hip. He had surgery to repair it today. It’s a surgery that he did not survive. While his family grieved, they also commented that they knew where he was now. Now he was beginning his new life with Christ and they could not imagine anything better for him. John 14:1-3 says:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Cool. From before we are born until we are “born again” into our new life in Christ on this earth, and then finally meet Him in heaven, God walks with us, to guide us, comfort us, love us. I think of the song “In the Garden” where it says:

“And I walk with him and I talk with him, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

I wish you daily the joy of walking with Christ and leaning on his strength.

Make Me a Servant

by Sarah Langness

Alright.  I have a very anti-Christian-sounding confession to make. But don’t write me off or let this statement keep you from reading this in full:

Sometimes, I really don’t like praying.

Not the actual  act of praying, the whole talking to my Father, sharing my heart with Him stuff. I’m fine with that. But I don’t like praying for change . . . specifically, change in me. It’s like that whole concept of  “Don’t pray for patience, otherwise the Lord will give you more opportunities to practice patience.” I had one of those experiences this past week. Except I prayed for a servant heart. And man, was I ever tested.

It all started when I decided to start reading through the book of Mark. I began to notice how often Jesus mentioned servant hood and how often He Himself was a servant (1 Peter 2:21). And because He has left us an example to follow, I knew I needed to become a servant as well. That I needed to become less selfish as a mother and as a wife. That I needed to exemplify love as Paul describes it in that all-too familiar chapter that we don’t even really get anymore – 1 Corinthians 13. That I needed to put the needs of those in our church family and our community above my own. So my prayer became that of the old song:

Make me a servant, humble and meek.
Lord, let me lift up those who are weak.
And may the prayer of my heart always be, make me a servant.
Make me a servant . . . today.”

After only a few mornings of praying this prayer, the opportunities seemed to abound for me to be a servant. And they weren’t opportunities that came from a far-off place or would send me out of my comfort zone. They were in my own home.

They were opportunities with a toddler who suffered from a 102.2 fever and just wanted to cuddle for nearly two days. They were opportunities with that same toddler who, after the fever broke and he seemed to be himself, didn’t want to take naps in his crib and would only sleep while being held. They were opportunities with my husband, who can’t read my mind after only (almost) four years of marriage. They were opportunities to make a meal for a VBS team even when I felt like we had so much to get ready for our trip. They were opportunities to open our home to new friends even when I felt so tired at the end of the day.

Here’s my other confession: after a couple of days of constant opportunities to be a servant, I stopped praying that prayer. I was exhausted.

But ya know what? I should start praying that prayer again. Because Jesus was a servant even in death. I guess this time though, I’ll try not to be as surprised at the constant opportunities to serve.

“‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.'”  Mark 10:42-45, (NASB) (emphasis mine)

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!