A Child Is Born

The dual natures of Jesus Christ, alongside that of His distinct person in the Trinity, defies all human capabilities of comprehension. Our finite minds are frankly not designed with the ability to decode infinite concepts. One thing, however, remains abundantly clear-the Bible is the greatest love story ever to be written.

At the beginning of this year, I gave birth to my third child. She entered this world as a six pound nine ounce bundle of the purest form of joy. The love I harbor for this child is fierce. Yet the love in which the Creator embraces each one of us, His created, simply cannot compare. He chose to offer salvation to sinful man and He, too, chose to enter this world as a child.

Without ceasing to be God, He became human.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:7 “He made Himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form” (NLT). Jesus set aside the right to His glory and power and completely submitted to the will of the Father. He became man. A sinless God chose to walk among sinful man. Friends, this is the very embodiment of unconditional love.

The Father knew that Adam and Eve would not comply in the Garden. And He would one day rectify that broken relationship through His one and only Son. Talk about the ultimate parent! In order to eliminate the chains of death for all of eternity, God willingly gave us His Son as the very key that opened the lock. He became the sacrifice for all of our sin. A gift so undeserved, but freely given. Rest on that.

Each night as I lay my newborn down to sleep, her two little eyes always peer up at me. And even if it is just for a moment, just for a second, I find myself gaining a glimpse of Heaven. God gifted me this precious baby girl just like He gifted Mary that precious baby boy thousands of years ago. Little did she fully understand how that gift was meant for us all. That baby may have entered this world as a child, but make no mistake…..that child was born a King.

Jesus lived so we would not die. And He died so we could have the chance to live.

STEFANI CALENS

Stefanie Calens
Author

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Give This Person Your Seat

Give This Person Your Seat!

"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this person your seat.'  Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place." – Luke 14:8-9

When the company I work for moved our five-member department into newly opened space in our building, each of us was given his or her own office.  My boss – the department director – naturally had the largest office, and I happened to have the second-largest one with three big windows.  This was not because my title deserved it, but rather because the space was next to my boss and I worked closely with him, and he thought it would be more convenient for me to be situated there.  I was pleased and thoroughly enjoyed my spacious area – until we hired a department chief.  The new chief immediately moved into my boss' office, and my boss then moved into mine.

As for me?  A construction crew threw up some wallboard to block off the end of a hallway and created a new spot for me:  tiny and cramped, with no windows.  I didn't complain outright, but I let my displeasure be known to anyone who asked.  I admitted to myself that even though it was small, it was plenty of room for my needs, because I don't require extra space for a lot of equipment or filing cabinets for my job.  But I still felt put out – literally and figuratively.  Until one of my friends from another department stopped in to see me and was delighted with my area.  "Oh how lucky you are!" she exclaimed.  "You're located in a nice quiet spot at the end of the hall where nobody bothers you!"

Wow!  When I thought about it that way, I realized it was true.  Whereas my colleagues in the other offices had to contend with foot traffic and the associated noise that passed by their doors on a regular basis, and with interruptions when people stopped in to chat, I didn't have to deal with any of that.  It certainly gave me a different outlook, and I thanked my friend for presenting me with a new perspective.

Lois Thomson
Author

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The Silence of God

Recently, one of our best friends, Ken, died.  He went into the Mayo Clinic for a second bone marrow transplant, and once the chemo eliminated his immune system, he caught a sickness that ravaged his unprotected organs.  The doctors tried all they could, but they soon reached the limits of medical science.  Many of us prayed and begged God for a miracle.  But God brought no miracle.  One of the greatest, most generous men I’ve ever known, a husband to an awesome wife and father to three wonderful kids, died because he had bad genes and a bacterium.

I cried out to God and He did nothing to save Ken.  I ask him why, and He responds with silence.

It’s funny how theodicies can spill from my lips when people die from war on some far-off continent, but when one of my best friends dies from something he did not earn or could not control, I am rendered speechless.  “The race I not to the swift or the battle to the strong,” writes the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “nor does food come to the wise or wealthy to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”  I think sometimes we believe in a form of the Prosperity Gospel-that if we follow God and live wisely, we’ll be ok.  We’ll livelong lives, and our children will be safe and follow Jesus.  But sometimes, no matter how wise and generous and God-loving a man is, he still dies of leukemia in his early 40’s and leaves behind a wife and young children.  None of us is exempt from suffering and death.

And so often, God is silent in the face of brutal horror.  He seems callous and absent when He lets a good man die and is silent about it.  But I’ve been realizing that His silence is the most powerful and profound answer he can give to seemingly inexplicable suffering.

We see this most clearly at the cross.  Jesus hangs naked, bloody and dying.  He asks God, “Why have you forsaken me?”  God responds with silence.  There is Jesus, the perfect image of the invisible God-God Himself-bleeding, suffering, and dying abandoned by a silent God.  

Ken Abrams, Celebration of Life event.

I look up to the sky, looking to God for an answer.  He says nothing.  But when I look beside me, I see God’s answer hanging on gnarled wood.  Instead of coming down to end suffering, God came down to suffer with us.  To a suffering person, many words and pat answers are repulsive.  Friends that give such only add misery.  The greatest friends come and give the gift of their silent presence.  They do not give answers-they give themselves.

Such is the way of Jesus.  We want an explanation.  We want an immediate end to the suffering.  Instead, God comes down as a human being and becomes a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.  He bleeds and dies and is rendered silent.  But it is not the silence of apathy.  It is the silence of profound understanding.

God knows what it’s like to be a refugee.
God knows what it’s like to lose his dad at a young age.
God knows what it’s like to be rejected in his hometown.
God knows what it’s like to lose one of his best friends.
God knows what it’s like to be betrayed.
God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by his friends.
God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by God.
God knows what it’s like to have his body fail him.
God knows what it’s like to die.
God knows.

I look at the cross, and in the midst of mourning for my dear friend, I take comfort in the silence of God.  He doesn’t need to give answers.  He doesn’t need to give words.  His presence is enough.

 

Devin O'Bannon
Special Guest Author

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Rooted

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.    
Ephesians 3:16-18

Paul has found himself once again in a Roman prison, but in the midst of his own suffering he writes a letter to the church at Ephesus and assures them they are in his prayers.  He prays for the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them – a poignant prayer from a man who’s experiencing that very thing for himself – so that their faith would not falter and they would continue to follow Christ.  Paul then goes on to say “That you, being rooted and established in love may have the power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”

Why does Paul mean by them being rooted?

When we consider the plants and trees around us, we know that nothing survives long without roots.  The plant needs the sun to grow, but it is only as healthy as what water and nutrients its roots can reach and draw from the ground.

When we consider what Paul meant here, we begin to see that all of us are rooted in something.

To be rooted in something is to draw your value and identity from that thing. 

It is the driving force to everything you do. 

It defines you. 

It is the thing you cannot ignore and you cannot forget and you cannot do without.

As believers, we know we’re supposed to be rooted in our relationship with Jesus…but sometimes we’re not.

Join us at 10am on April 22nd for Rooted as we identify how easily we sometimes allow things of this world to draw our roots away from the things of God and discover how we can root ourselves in His Grace, His Truth and His Love for our identity, value and purpose!

REGISTER FOR ROOTED

Catharine Phillips
Author

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The Lies That Bind

It used to be the Ladies Home Journal – today it’s Facebook.  You know … those stories that start simply enough, “My headache turned out to be a brain tumor.”  OR, “Young woman discovers constant hip pain is bone cancer.”

I used to read these stories and have major anxiety attacks. I’d start to think, “Oh my gosh, I have all those symptoms!  Am I one headache away from a brain tumor? Is that liver spot melanoma? Is my stomach gas really colon cancer? Or … Insert disease of your choice here based on whatever current ache or pain you may currently be experiencing!

I’ve had to stop reading these Facebook news stories altogether. No good can come of them.  I refuse to give the enemy any type of foothold when it comes to my mind and thought processes. If I allow myself to read the story of a woman who had her leg amputated as the result of an ingrown toenail, I’m liable to start panicking over every little hangnail.

The devil would like nothing more than for us to be in a constant state of panic or worry. He is a master manipulator who does his best work when we are fearful. With just a few simple suggestions he can easily convince us that we have a disease-ridden body, or any number of things as equally terrifying. If we don’t renew our minds on a daily basis we can easily be conformed to the thinking of this world (Romans 12:2).  We can quickly fall into fear regarding our health, our marriages, our children, the future, financial ruin or any manner of life-changing disasters.  We all have to remember -- there is a battle raging for control of our minds!

In addition to the daily renewal of our minds, we must put on the full armor of God DAILY as outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20.  We must not lean on our own understanding but trust in the Lord ALWAYS as stated in Proverbs 3:5-6.  For optimal protection against our minds, rather than taking in negative thoughts, we’d do well to ingest massive daily doses of Scripture. And seriously … let’s steer clear of those Facebook disaster news stories!

 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)

Kathy Kurlin
Author

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In Spite Of

In spite of my attitude – God sits with me.

In spite of my choices – God loves me.

In spite of my impatience – God takes His time with me.

In spite of my sadness – God holds me.

In spite of my upside-down dreams – God guides me.

In spite of my past – God loves me unconditionally.

In spite of what someone said to me today – God remains the same.

In spite of how I forget to pray – God doesn’t walk away.

In spite of what I look like – God loves what He created.

In spite of me doing what I want – God walks in front of me.

In spite of my language – God knows how I’m feeling.

In spite of questions – God gives answers in His time.

In spite of my giving up – God never does.

“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”   Romans 8:37-39 The Message

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O Lord of hosts, blessed in the man who trusts in You!”   Psalm 84:11-12 NKJV

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG ministries

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I’m A Winner!

 

I found myself thinking it way too often: "I just can't win."

We all know the feeling. You get a flat tire on the day of your interview, you donate an item to charity then need it for a dinner party the next week, you send the email to the wrong recipient, you forget your boss's wife's name...(I could go on).

Or the more vague ones like expectations we can't seem to live up to and people we simply can't please. It's easy to feel like a loser if we choose to focus on what's not working perfectly in our lives.

I use to tell myself the "I just can't win" story until "winning" started to trend. As in, "I found a dollar in my car's ash tray! Coffee for me today! #winning"

Or "I added corn to the taco soup and all the kids actually ate it! #momwin"

I started taking note of how often I won.

Catching all the lights and arriving at karate a little early.

The cashier offering me a coupon code.

A new recipe turning out well.

Choosing the perfect gift (on sale!).

Pulling off a last-minute project.

The bank withdrawal being delayed so my account wasn't overdrawn.

It turns out, I win A LOT.

"Thank God!" I thought. "We can celebrate winning now!"

I'm pretty sure #winning was born from our collective desire to focus on the positive instead of all the ways things go wrong or we screw up.

The truth is, as children of God, we are winners.

Of course life happens and things go awry.

But God is working everything together for good and to accomplish His purposes. Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

God is for us and desires to give us what we need. Romans 8:31-32 "God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"

We are more than conquerors. Romans 8: 36 "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." 

And when we focus on the good in our lives, we realizing we are winners. That's definitely worth celebrating!

Tabitha Dumas
Author

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But People

 

You’ve likely met them – or perhaps you’ve been one of them. I’m talking about the BUT people. They sound a little something like this:

“I know I shouldn’t tell you this, but …”

“I know I shouldn’t eat this, but …”

“I know I shouldn’t drink this, but

“I know I shouldn’t buy this, but

“I know I shouldn’t wear this, but

“I know I shouldn’t be jealous, but …” 

When it comes to us BUT people, the question begs to be asked … IF we KNOW we shouldn’t be doing something … WHY do we do those things?

The apostle Paul knew a little something about being a BUT person, as outlined in Romans 7:14-15: “The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin.  I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Emphasis mine.)

Clearly the problem with most of us BUT people is, we are human! We tend to live according to our flesh; always wanting to do what feels good right now, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us to do what will mold us into people who will be more Christ-like.

If you’re a BUT person – why not try asking for God’s help before doing something you know you shouldn’t? Too many “I know I shouldn’t, BUT …” circumstances will eventually land us in the wrong BUT zone. The one that that sounds like this:

“Well … I guess there’s nothing else to do BUT pray!”

Stop living according to your flesh and practice surrendering your BUTs!

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”  Galatians 5:16 (NLT)

Kathy Kurlin
Author

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Parchment Paper

 

It took a lot of years before I discovered the ease of baking with parchment paper.  Why didn’t I know about it sooner?  Like, at the beginning of my marriage?  I would have saved a lot of time not cleaning up baking sheets each time!  Maybe it was because parchment paper was a luxury my grandma and mom didn’t use so I wasn’t aware it even existed.

But, now I do know.

And I use parchment paper all the time.

There is no mess.  I just wad it up and throw it away.  Sometimes it gets brown around the edges and it makes a lot of noise as it goes into the trashcan.  Gone.  Just like that.  With no residue to scrape off the cooking sheets.

Which brings me to my point. 

Why do we hang on to memories when we ask God for forgiveness?  Why do we make a lot of noise and think we are stuck in the way things were?  Didn’t God say He will forgive us and wants us to not look back but look forward and keep moving toward being a better person? 

Yes, we can learn from our sticky mistakes.  But, when we ask Him to wipe it clean (and we really mean it) He does just that.  Gone.  Those sins are washed away and it is time for us to start shiny and new. 

Don’t be brown around the edges.  Ask God to take that sin and forgive you.  He will wad it up and throw it away.  I like to think that as He is doing that, God is smiling as He listens to the sin crack under His control.  Just like I smile when the baking is done and I can throw away the parchment paper to find a clean cooking sheet underneath (while I take a bite out of a freshly baked goodie).

But if we own up to our sins, God shows that He is faithful and just by forgiving us of our sins and purifying us from the pollution of all the bad things we have done.  (1 John 1:9 The Voice)

Sherree Fischer
loveSTRONG ministries

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No Strings Attached

When I was a junior in college, I invited a friend over to my place for dinner, wine, and conversation. We had just met that semester in our women’s choir, and we had pretty similar taste in music, so we decided to set out and find what else we might have in common. 

We stayed up until three in the morning sitting on the couch, disagreeing on nearly everything. 

We didn’t argue. We didn’t even debate. We just watched the snow fall quietly outside the window and gradually got to know each other better. She was a militant atheist, one of the presidents of the local humanist club, and would argue with every street preacher that stopped by the campus.

I, on the other hand, grew up in one of the most conservative churches in town, and was starting to toy with the idea of handing gospel tracts out to random strangers. Despite this, she quickly became one of the best friends I had ever had. One might say our friendship was based on similar personality types, or temperaments of the heart, but I called it iron sharpening iron. As we grew in our friendship, I slowly shed my sense of “responsibility” for her salvation. She understood what the gospel was – intellectually, at least. I knew that nothing was going to convince her but airtight logic or supernatural love, neither of which I was truly capable of providing. But we trusted each other with our deepest fears and failures, and I knew that would speak the gospel in a truer way than arguing ever would.

You can spend hours debating someone about theology and religion from every angle. You can understand every strand of every argument, every tenant and doctrine, and still not really know the person you’re talking to. Until you spend time with that person as a friend--just hanging out and opening up, no strings attached--you won’t really know what they believe, and you won’t really know them.

And until we truly know them, how can we show them the love of God?

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." I John 3:18

Mary O'Bannon
Contributing Author

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