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A Perfect Picture

by Sarah Nelson

As I was hanging pictures on the walls of our new home, I thought of a simply decorated wall hanging that has been on my parents’ walls for many years at many different addresses.  It is not an expensive piece of art.  It’s not ornate, masterfully designed, or worth many dollars.  It is a Bible verse written in beautiful calligraphy and decorated with some simple purple and blue flowers.  I don’t treasure that picture because of it’s appearance, but because of  the message on it that reached my heart many, many times over the years.  The verse?

“For my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh and pleaded with the Lord to remove it.  What was the Lord’s response?

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient 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.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:8-10  (ESV)

Do you have a situation in your life that is a painful thorn?  Do you have troubled relationships, a difficult workplace experience, or a physical challenge that is making your life seem unbearable?   Have you asked God time and time again to remove it and His answer has been no, or not yet?  If that is the case, know that He does see, He does hear, He does care, and He does have a plan to use that thorn for His glory.  His grace IS sufficient for us.  This doesn’t mean we are spared pain, tears, and loss, but it does mean friends that He is WITH us.

May God remind you today that His power is made perfect in the weaknesses of our lives.  Less of us, more of Him.  May that be the picture of our lives.

Serving by Grace

by Sarah Langness

Remember that lesson I was learning about servant hood and that servant heart? I’ve found myself in situations this week yet again where that has been tested. Where my desire to have a servant heart has been challenged. Where I’ve learned even more about how selfish I am and how much work my heart needs.

And you know what else I have learned this week about being a servant?

It’s not something I can do on my own. Not on my own strength. Not by my own will. Not by my own power.

Only through Christ can I serve when I am exhausted and crabby. Only through Christ can I love as He has called us to love. Only through Christ can I have the grace to respond as He would respond.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13, NASB (emphasis mine)

So not only have I been praying to be a servant; but I’ve been praying for the grace to be a servant. When those trying moments come, when I am crabby, when I am simply exhausted — I’ve started asking the Lord to give me grace. Grace to show to others so that I can be a servant.

Praise God we don’t have to do this stuff on our own!

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!

A Call to Serve

by Sarah Langness

Sometimes I get it. I get why Jonah said no. Why he ran in the opposite direction from where God had called him to go. It’s certainly easier. Until that big fish came along. Then ‘yes’ may have looked a whole lot better than ‘no’.

Over the past two months, I have been challenged in regards to my service to Jesus. Since becoming a mom, my involvement in the youth ministry and related activities at church has drastically plummeted. Everything seems to start at 7 pm, which is highly inconvenient when that’s the time you start the bath water and begin winding your little man down for the night. So I really struggled with what I could do, how I could have some sort of outreach.

And then, at one of my MOPS (Mothers of PreSchoolers) meetings, there was announcement about a training for those involved in leadership or who wanted to become involved in leadership. I told the Lord that if that was something He wanted me to do, He was going to have to send someone to ask me to be involved.

Guess what? Yep. I was approached. I was asked to consider serving.

My excuses to say no were abundant. But so too were God’s exhortations in Scripture to say yes:

God, this service isn’t one of my strengths .And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ . . . When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

God, I get asked if I’m still in high school. I look young and feel too young and inadequate for this. “Let no one look down on your youthfulness . . . show yourself an example to those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

God, I like my comfortable schedule, routine and way of life. This will probably throw a wrench in that.Can’t I just say no? If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” (Philippians 1:22)

God, are you really sure you want to use me“Christ Jesus our Lord . . . has strengthed me . . . He considered me faithful, putting my into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” (1 Timothy 1:12-13)

For some reason we think we have to have it all together before we serve. That we can serve only in the areas where we feel gifted. That we aren’t good enough. That someone else could do it better. We forget that the Lord will equip us when He calls us. He will be our strength when we are weak. He is good and because of His goodness, He uses flawed people like us.

And really, it’s not about us anyway is it? It’s all about Him.

“‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.'” – Matthew 5:16 (emphasis mine)

The Grace Tree

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Jonni's Grace Treeby Jonni Sliver

Just one of the many wonderful things about being in Brazil is the pure beauty that surrounds you. Because of the temperate climate flowers bloom all year round and there is the most amazing array of flowering trees. The streets are decorated with fabulous colors and when the blooms fall it looks like the streets have been carpeted!

My personal favorite is the Flamboant tree (yup, the name comes from the same root as flamboyant – it is French for flames), and it is stunning. When it is in bloom its flowers are stunning yellows, violets and reds. But I like it best, not because of its flowers but because of the tree itself. It has long flat branches with delicate, feather like leaves that fan out. The branches layer one another and stretch out so far that on residential street one tree can cover a whole street. I love driving under the branches of these wonderful trees because I can almost feel God reaching His hand over me. Everyone else calls them Flamboant, but I call them Grace Trees, because they remind me of God’s gracious covering in our lives.

Just recently I learned a little more, that deepened my appreciation for my Grace Tree. We have been sprucing up (hey, another tree!) the Bible school grounds and some new plants have been introduced. I lobbied for my favorite tree to be planted but I was voted down. That is because the Flamboant has roots that grow very deep, and extend so far looking for water that they can easily damage sidewalks and wreck under grounds pipes. For the grounds keepers of the Bible school that is not highly desirable, but it is a great little object lesson for me! To see God’s grace manifest we have to have deep roots that seek out Living Water.

Psalm 1 talks about trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit with abundance of leaves – it sounds like a wonderful description of my Grace tree. I love it that God goes out of His way to remind us of His love and constant care for us. There are days when I am driving kids to the doctor or to a visit with their family, and their situation just seems overwhelming – then we pass under a Grace Tree. And I remember that nothing overwhelms Him and because I am in Him I don’t have to be overwhelmed either – praise the Lord for grace!

Going Home?

by Velma Amundson

“DAY O, Day ay ay oh, Daylight come and me wan’ go home”. Ok, I know, strange way to start this blog. But then again, why not? This song is about banana workers who have finished their shift, done their work and want to go home. My mother has been with us for a month. We’ve had a great time together. But, as it gets closer to the time for her to go home, I can see her missing her home, her friends and my brother and sisters more and more. She wants to go home.

There is an old gospel hymn that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” I think of that song often. It reminds me that I have a heavenly home waiting for me. Somewhere that I’m promised every tear will be wiped away and I will get to be in the presence of my Lord and Savior forever. It keeps me going when the way gets rough and I feel like nothing is working. It also keeps me going when everything is going my way. It reminds me that the things of this earth are temporary and not all that important. What is important is the treasure I “lay up in heaven”. When I allow God to use me as His witness, showing His love and compassion to those around me, I lay up treasure in Heaven. And someday, when my work here is done, I will get to go there. Not because of the work, but because of God’s grace and mercy.

God Goes Before Us

by Lynn Wellumson

We have enjoyed for years getting Christmas cards and letters from friends and family.  They, without exception, highlight the good times had by the family through the past year.  This has included new births, job promotions, children with stellar grades, new homes, and exotic vacations.  We have most years written a letter of our own recalling the blessings and joys of the past year.

One author, after a glowing report, of unusually gifted and talented children, job promotions, and a dog with perfect manners closed his letter with a P.S which read “other things happened too, but they don’t look good in print”.

How thankful we are that God has gone before us in 2013.  We can trust His mercy and grace will not only be sufficient but will cover us.  We are thankful for His promise of forgiveness and mercy to those who call upon His name and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  In our humanness we need His promise of eternal life and the joy of entering His kingdom.  We can face the future with optimism and hope even with the knowledge that things will happen that wouldn’t look good in print.

The Potter, the Clay, and Do-Overs

by Jonni Sliver

I am having a really hard time writing you today. I am feeling fine, but am completely distracted because I have Daniel in a stroller next to me and he is just too cute to not pay attention to! Daniel is five months old and is the son of Odette, one of our house mothers. While she is making lunch and working with the children Daniel spends a fair amount of the morning in our office, distracting the staff with baby conversation and adorable aerobics (biting his toes, practicing for a swim meet as his little arms and legs swing with impressive rhythm). This precious little guy is firmly convinced that he is among the most amazing of children, because he is surrounded by people who tell him every day.

On the other side of the wall is another little one – Emily is 2 and a half and when she arrived a month ago she was convinced that she couldn’t trust anyone. She was afraid of everyone, the house moms and the rest of the staff, the other children. Fortunately she arrived at the beginning of a two week period when there were only a few children in the Home, because she needed time to adjust. By the end of the first week she trusted one person – house mom Neide; but when Neide went home she cried until she fell asleep. By the end of the second week she trusted all four of the house moms, but no one else – not even the other children. By the third week she had begun playing with the other children (a good thing, because by then we had several new children!) as long as she could see one of the moms she trusted. Now, after a month, she has begun laughing and even lets adults who aren’t one of the moms pick her up – if she can see a mom!

Now, why would a two year old have such a firm conviction that you can’t trust people. Because, like Daniel, she was surrounded by people who taught her. It is heartbreaking to think of, but her father regularly abused her, and even as a tiny little girl Emily knew that her mother and grandparents couldn’t or wouldn’t stop him. So she learned that grownups are people that hurt you or let you be hurt.

If I stopped now, you may never read another of my blog entries, it is just too sad. But there is good news! We didn’t go out and find Emily; God brought her to us! And He brought her to us for a reason; He has healing for this precious little girl. He is the Potter and she is the clay; though others have done their best to mar this young life, the Potter is able to remove every mark and create in her the strong, joyful spirit He intends for her. We can’t undo what has been done to Emily, but we can rejoice and participate in the bright future she has before her, and I am so glad for that!

String Cheese, Dryer Sheets and Grace: Finding God When We Feel Rotten

by Liz Johnson

It was following me everywhere.

I couldn’t figure it out. It smelled halfway like a porta potty at a July music festival and halfway like my freshman brother’s bedroom. The whole day became almost a waste; the words out of my professors’ mouths were muffled and distant and I kept trying to sneakily lean over to find out if one of my nearby classmates was the perpetrator of the stench. It followed me into my car and drove with me all the way home, but later that day it disappeared. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t me. Even the next day, when my hair was smelling of Pantene Pro-V and my sweater was straight from the drier, the stench followed me to school and followed me back again.

And then I discovered it. I unzipped the small front pocket of my backpack in search of a writing utensil – the smell was almost paralyzing. I had thrown the delicious piece of string cheese in my backpack for a little afternoon snack and had abandoned it for days – possibly weeks. Now it sloshed around in cheese juice, soft and squishy in the plastic wrapper. Before I lost everything I had previously eaten up to that point, I sprinted to dump the putrid snack in garage trash bin. But it’s presence still lingered, permeating my section of the house and saturating my trusty backpack. Even after scrubbing it with a soapy rag and airing it out on the deck and drowning it in Febreeze, I still had to stuff the pocket with dryer sheets for a week before I could bear to wear it around in public again. Sometimes I still feel like I didn’t quite do enough.

There are some things that we just can’t seem to shake. It’s the ugly reactions when we’re stressed, or the controlling tendencies when we sense that someone’s not doing it right, or the angry words that spew from our mouths in conflict. We see our downfalls, we smell the stench and we scrub. We work to clean it, to get rid of it. We feel like we’re making progress, like our lives and our personalities and our character are becoming less shameful and more beautiful, but then something happens. We have an outburst, or we hurt someone we love, or we believe a lie about ourselves – or about God. The progress seems lost and our lives and relationships seem permeated with that stench again.

Through this, in the muck and the mire of my failings, in the shame of my old habits and in the reality of my humanity, this is when the beauty of God’s grace is overwhelming. His forgiveness and favor are overpoweringly sweet and uncanny. Psalm 103: 11-12 says, “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” It’s in these moments of weakness and frustration that these words become real to us, felt in us. God is at work in our lives, maturing us and sanctifying us through His Spirit; at the same time, He sees us as spotless, sinless and stench-less. His love for us, His delight in us is not shaken by the ugliness of our mistakes. Or the week-old cheese in our backpacks.