Watches of the Night

June 26, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen –

As long as I can remember there has been a yearning within to know God. There are many things material and immaterial that people place hope in. I have read about the mythological beliefs of the Greeks and Romans. They share something with every other culture, gods fashioned in human likeness. But as much as mankind desires to promote self-worship, there is a craving for something so much larger than self. There in the bitterness when sin runs its destructive course is the looming questions; is there nothing more?

This past month was filled with restless nights. During these dark watches I was in agony over sin. I have never experienced anything like it before. I have been studying the gospels and have been struck anew at God’s imperative love. We have no hope without a covering for our sin. Yet as I twisted and turned my way through repentance for myself, family, and our nation, what stuck was a new understanding of what it meant for Christ to become sin.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

As I lay there grieving I could not imagine the terrible load Christ carried on the cross. The only relief on those nights has come from the Lord; I cannot imagine my distress if He turned his face from me.

He is mercy. I longed to understand what was happening to me on these sleepless nights. I have heard friends talk about intercessory prayer but I have never before felt this type of weight or grief over our nation. A close friend called and unknowingly began to describe the same scenario. She described waking at the same times and crying in repentance to the Lord. Unexpected joy surged through me as she shared what God has been teaching her through this. And as I re-read the account of Jesus’ last night in Gethsemane I was soul struck at His instructions to watch and pray.

The disciples were sleepy. Jesus acknowledged their reality “the spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Matthew 25:41b NIV).

But He admonished them three times to keep watch. He told them to pray so they would not fall into temptation. Interestingly enough, the instructions are the same in Mark 13:33 “Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is” (KJV). Only this passage in Mark is referring to the end of the age.

The night of Jesus’ arrest must have seemed the darkest of all nights. His disciples scattered, except Peter who was left to grieve, denying He was Jesus’ disciple. Jesus had told them what to expect. Yet I have to wonder what raced through their minds that horrific night, and when they woke to the grim reality that their Messiah was convicted despite perfection. The world would have seemed incalculably evil. Did they lose heart that Passover?

What seemed the darkest hour in history became the pinnacle moment of redemption. They did not understand like we do not understand. Because when we draw near to the end of the age and all seems depraved and lost it is then when we will look up and see our glorious redeemer drawing near. This hard fought battle will be done. Until that day watch and pray.

The Golden List Legacy

June 14, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Marty Norman –

Recently a friend and faithful follower of Christ gave me a thought provoking book, “The Ultimate Gift”. A  book about morals, principals and life lessons it encourages one to reflect on the values and principals in one’s own life. I’ve been pondering it ever since.

In one of the chapters the main character, Red Stevens, travels for a year with a homeless man named Josh. As they travel, Red asks Josh why he is always in a good mood. Josh tells him about a discipline that he learned from his mother called the Golden List.

This is the way it works. Every morning before he gets up, Josh lies in bed or wherever he’s sleeping and imagines a golden tablet. He evaluates his day and where he is in life. He then writes down, in an imaginary way, ten things he’s most thankful for. This keeps him focused on the things of importance.

This is not a new idea. It’s called a gratitude list. Many people and religions do  it. Even Oprah talked about it on her TV show.  In fact, she did many shows on this topic. But “The Ultimate Gift” and the golden list are good reminders and a good exercise for all of us to start for the New Year.

Not only is it a good discipline but it is also biblical:  Psalm 107:1 “O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good.”  II Corinthians 2:14  “Now thanks be to God.” Ephesians 1:15 “I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” Ephesians 5:20  “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything.” I Thessalonians 1:2 “We always thank God for all of you.” I Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Revelation 10: 17  “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was.”

This is not a suggestion. It’s a command.  Clearly God knows what he’s doing.  Psychologically if one concentrates on what’s positive in life, things go better. It’s a mindset as well as a discipline. It’s a habit worth cultivating. The scripture tells us to give praise and thanks in all things.

I can’t help but contemplate the importance of beginning this practice now. As the days darken, and as the world moves into chaos, we as believers have the opportunity to be salt and light in a world gone awry. The first step is to get our minds right by walking daily in praise and thanksgiving for all things.

One of my favorite books is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom. During World War II she and her family faced some of the most horrific situations and conditions known to man. And they did so with integrity and faith, which is a great model for us to follow. The foundation of their response to the inhumanity they experienced was to love and give praise and thanks in all things. In one scene they even give thanks for the fleas in their compound. Later they learned that they were able to do uninterrupted evening Bible studies in their compound because the guards were afraid to come in because of the fleas.  Go figure. God works in mysterious ways.

This type of faith is surely beyond the understanding of most of us. But I don’t think this habit began for Corrie ten Boom while in the concentration camps. More than likely, she took the scriptures literally and began this spiritual discipline many years before. Eventually it moved from habit to an attitude of the heart that became part of her daily life and character. She could then draw on it when needed.

Makes sense to me. So start now. Make January 2012 the beginning of the rest of your life. Develop this spiritual discipline now while there is still time. Give thanks and praise to God in all things. Make a daily gratitude list, thanking God for the many blessings of this life. Move from a habit to a discipline to an attitude of the heart. Prepare yourself spiritually, for no one knows what the future might hold.

Maybe, just maybe, one day your golden list will be the ultimate gift for a world in darkness.

Shepherds for Christ

May 19, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Marty Norman –

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night”  (Luke 2:8).

Shepherds are amazing people. From biblical times to today, they are on guard as they watch over the sheep and baby lambs placed in their care. By day they feed the sheep, leading them to pastures for grazing. By night they guard the entrance to gated pens, protecting the sheep from wolves and predatory animals.

Shepherds have a distinct place in history. They were the first to whom God revealed the good news of the birth of his son. Standing in a brightly lit field, they stood in awe as the heavenly host descended, singing and praising God, proclaiming peace on earth, good will towards man.  Without hesitation, these simple men left the hills of Judea to see for themselves the miracle of the baby’s birth. They found him lying in a manager wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Today there are many types of shepherds–pastors, preachers, parents, grandparents, teachers and youth leaders.  They each have a role in the guarding of the flock. In God’s way, he uses the few to confound the many for he leads with precision those he has called to shepherd his sheep.

As grandmothers, we have our doctorate in shepherding. Not only does our age bless us with wisdom and longevity but our role in the family places us in a shepherd position. If we look closely at the Christmas story, the Word gives us the key to shepherding. For isn’t this how god made us—to feed our flocks by day and guard our flocks by night.

As grandmothers, we do this a number of ways–physically, spiritually and emotionally. Physically we provide necessities for their well-being, but we also give them fun things we didn’t provide for our own children because of lack of funds. Emotionally, we offer a place of safety and a heart of unconditional love; we see and have time to do the things that others don’t. Spiritually, we show Jesus to our grandkids when we sing songs or hymns of praise, sharing our joy in the Lord. At night we offer comfort and protection through our prayers. In our quiet times we speak and read the Word of the Lord over them, providing a canopy of covering.

But there is more to the Christmas story than just guarding the flock. Luke 2:17 tells us, ‘When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  This is the heart of the story. First they saw, guarded, protected and watched; then they went and told.

As 21st century shepherds, are we doing the same, telling all that we see about Jesus?  Are the people who hear amazed at what we tell them?  If not, then we are not applying the Christmas story to today.

So our challenge this Christmas is to make a plan. Determine how you will you share the gospel that Jesus, the Messiah, has come. Who will you tell about the good news of the baby Jesus?

Prayer:   O God, I praise you that you sent your son, Emmanuel, the Messiah, to us on Christmas Eve. I praise you that you spoke to humble shepherds who were guarding their flocks by night. I thank you that they investigated, believed and went out to tell others.  I pray that you would do likewise with me. Use me this Christmas season to spread the good news of the birth of the Savior. Use me to amaze people with your story.

Thirty-three

May 1, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen-

A few weeks ago our plumbing had a run of unfortunate events.

Early one morning I leaned in to the shower and realized it had not drained from the previous shower. I opened my mouth to groan but a verse came out instead. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV). I  swallowed a mouthful of irritation and croaked my thanks for indoor plumbing.

The next morning I woke to find that our hot water heater was not working properly. Thanks for indoor plumbing I mumbled through blue lips. I have to admit I have become an expectant wimp. Where is the thanksgiving for the other days that start with a hot shower, full belly, and the best cup of coffee in town?

Christ left Heaven for Earth and He did not even have a place to lay His head. He was looked down upon. He was called a drunkard and a glutton. But He knew who He was and why He had come. As I work my way through the book of Matthew and consider Christ’s words, I find a priority list slightly different than my own. Christ said that He only does what the Father instructs Him to do. He said give up your life if you want to find it. He says follow me. And when the day came to lay His life down in obedience, He did so.  He is God and He chose to walk among us for thirty-three years, poor and rejected.

I don’t think modern Christianity lines up well with Jesus’ instructions. Because there is a lie we tell ourselves, and it goes something like this: I deserve this. I deserve a nice house, a nice car, to do what I want, to watch what I want, to respond how I want. I deserve to be treated with kind respect and even preference.

I think we tend toward what is permissible rather than what is beneficial. And I wonder what this attitude has cost. If I pursued holiness like I pursue my comfort zone I would be a different person.

I long to be different.

I yearn to imitate a God who does the unexpected and never tries to woo us with a good reputation. We would have been drawn by power, looks and wealth.

He was born in a stable. He did not have anything that would cause us to desire him. He knows humanities tendency to be drawn by outward appearance and lovingly preferred us by coming in humble fashion.

He showed us what was important by the way He lived, and it was not reputation building, it was humble obedience.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).

Philippians 2 goes on to say that the result of Christ’s humility was exaltation, a name above every name, and every knee bowing before
Him.

He laid His life down freely and He says we should do the same. May He enable us, through His great strength, to give up our lives to follow Him.

Right or Left at Oak Street?

April 22, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton

“Mrs. Thornton, we’re so sorry, but we can’t find Matthew.” The voice of my eleven-year-old son’s principal echoed through the earpiece.

The world slowed.

“What do you mean?”

“His teacher let him go to the restroom at eleven this morning.”

My gaze flew to the wall—two o’clock.

“The class went to lunch, and she thought he had returned and gone with them, so she didn’t notice he was missing until the end of the meal. We’ve searched the entire campus and can’t find him.”

I wanted to scream, And you’re just now calling me? But somewhere in the depths of my foggy brain, I knew this was a tough call to make, and screaming wouldn’t find Matthew.

“The police are on their way. You can meet them here at the office.”

Denial stupefied my mind. Stunned fear jumbled my thoughts. Matt had run away before (to the park down the street); surely he was voluntarily missing. A school employee had seen a kid walking down the road during her lunch hour. Thirty-five years of training in manners managed to squelch my desire to screech at her, Why in the world didn’t you stop him?!

Matt had been headed east. Our house was five miles northwest. He had a friend who lived seven miles east. We made frantic phone calls. No one had seen him. The police cruised the roads in both directions—no sign of him. They sent my husband home to wait in case he called or showed up. I stayed at the school office.

Time dragged. The police asked questions; I can’t remember what they were. I made phone calls. I prayed. I grasped at every straw-like possibility that would bring my son safely home.

And God blessed us beyond belief.

At five, Wes received a call. Matt had made it four miles to the freeway where he walked down the middle of the construction area and got in the car with a construction worker. Thankfully the man took Matt to Whataburger where they called us.

Matt had gotten fed up with school and decided to come home. Roads look different on foot and alone than when riding with Mom. Every time he came to a familiar street name, he chose the wrong way to turn. He never realized he was lost.

I assume since God is omniscient, He doesn’t have the fear of the unknown that we have as parents. But He is our Father, and I have to believe that he does suffer the agony of the known. He sees us making those wrong turns and knows the consequences we will have to suffer. He knows how lost we get even if we don’t.

He also knows our final destination. But then again, so do we, and still I agonize over the path my children may take to get there. Does God suffer when we don’t listen to His guidance? “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV).

Comment Prompt:  What incidents have reminded you that God feels our emotions with us?

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