What Songs Does Your Heart Sing?

September 27, 2022 by  
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By Carol McClain –

Life can drag us down, and regardless of our religious philosophies, we don’t always get what we want, even if we do everything right. In my case, I divorced at thirty, and although I always wanted a large family, I only met my new husband long after I could no longer have a second child. My life wounded me. In high school I believed myself to be an outcast. I grew up in poverty under the hand of my family’s alcoholism. The consequences of sins I’ve committed in my youth left scars, reminders I’d rather forget. Loneliness stalked me, sometimes nearly devouring me.

And I’m not alone in my pain. Several friends battle breast cancer. Another friend’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack, and she found him in the back yard. Odd genetic abnormalities plague the children of a sweet, young family. Each person reading this could add to this list and attest to the fact that life can devour us.

However, several years ago I met a young man whose life made mine look like the pity-party it was. His life convicted me of my sin. I never met him in person, but only through his book of poetry, Journey Through Heartsongs and a few TV appearances.

Mattie J.T. Stepaneck was a peace ambassador for MDA. Born with mitochondrial myopathy, a degenerative neuromuscular disease, his life has been plagued with a chronic decline and loss of motor control. He’s had to breathe with a respirator, had a tube in his heart for medications, and endured weekly blood transfusions.

This disease eventually killed him as it did his brothers Stevie and Jamie and his sister Katie. It also afflicted his mother who discovered she had it only after she’d had four children.

What amazes me most about Mattie is not what he suffered, but the faith and grace that characterized how he faced his pain. Mattie had incredible poetic talent. He began writing at age three, by seven he wrote poetry with enviable sophistication. As a poet, Mattie tried to bring reconciliation to the world, and his poems speak poignantly of disabilities, hope and an indefatigable faith in God.

He knew sooner or later he would be “buried into heaven,” that he is an “echo caught between two worlds,” that his brother Jamie sent him gifts from heaven when he was sad, and that he was remiss if he failed to notice them.

In one poem, he asked his mother if God would extend His right or left hand to him when he died. His mother responded that God would extend both. In a hug. Mattie couldn’t wait for that hug which he received on June 22, 2004, three weeks before his fourteenth birthday.

Reading about this young man who earned a black belt in karate, who dreamt of being a grandpa, who wanted to hold on forever to his holy family, and who held on to a holy God, convicts me. What is my pain? How frail is my faith? How unseemly is my attitude toward God?

I need to remember, I’m a part of a holy family and will ultimately be hugged by God.

(Poetic excerpts taken from: Stepaneck, Mattie. Journey Through Heartsongs. NY: VSP Books—Hyperion, 2001).

Proud

September 8, 2022 by  
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By Heather Allen —

He summons his advisors; he’s had a dream, and someone better tell him what it means. Magicians, sorcerers, astrologers, and enchanters are scratching their heads. How could they possibly know what Nebuchadnezzar dreamt? But it is their job to know. So they have two options: interpret the dream or be cut into pieces.

A guard comes for Daniel. The dream has not been interpreted, so Daniel’s life is required. Daniel pleads for time, and is granted it. He summons Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and together they seek the Lord. Miracles occur when we gather and pray. God gives Daniel an understanding of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning.

God has used a proud king’s dream to foretell future events. The dream involves a giant statue and accurately predicts the kingdoms that would rule from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon until the end of days when Christ’s kingdom is established on the Earth. Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was represented by the golden head atop the statue. His empire would be the first of the last. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that the kingdoms of men would ultimately be destroyed by the kingdom of God.

Nebuchadnezzar builds an enormous statue. I guess he was inspired by his dream. Perhaps he wanted others to see his greatness, his place as head of the empire. He decrees that the wise men and leadership of Babylon be rounded up so they can bow down and worship his statue. This time they can look forward to being thrown in a fiery furnace if they decline.

Someday this scenario will repeat. Revelation 13:15 says an image honoring the Anti-Christ will be constructed, and all humans will bow or forfeit their lives.

Somehow Nebuchadnezzar missed the import of his dream. His kingdom was temporary and would be crushed.

And that has me thinking. We as believers are given the same reminders. We are told to set our hearts on things above and to travel lightly, like strangers in this world. This world will pass in a flash. The next will last forever. Anything that is built for our glory will fall.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood when everyone else bowed. They knew the dream’s end. They knew that kingdoms built by men do not last. They were willing to stand alone. They laid down their positions and pride, willing to look foolish in order to walk right before God. They reverenced the true King. They would bow to Him alone.

These three men willingly walked death row. They were delivered and then promoted. The pattern repeats through the entirety of the book of Daniel.

I believe promotion comes from God, that a man who walks humbly with His maker is able to handle grander tasks because he has no illusion that he is able to accomplish them on his own. I also believe that God will lovingly keep us where we are positionally if promotion would fuel our pride rather than our dependence. Dependence enables us to stand when others bow. It enables us to walk a harder course, but in the end, we are choosing dependence over pride and life over death.

Where Are You Placing Your Faith?

August 28, 2022 by  
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By Pat Hodges –

How often do we find ourselves struggling to hold onto our faith in the midst of disappointment and disillusionment? A never ending cycle for some, and depending on the severity, an open door for the enemy to come in and steal one’s joy, steal one’s vision, and rob the person of all hope. Proverbs 13:12a says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”’

So, how do we find ourselves so easily disillusioned and discouraged from being repeatedly disappointed? Chances are we aren’t putting our faith and hope in God alone, but instead we have our faith and hope in at least one of the following: circumstances, people or problems.

We find the following promise in the Word.

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? Luke 11:9-13 (KJV)

Throughout my years of ministry, I have found more often than not, that we have a strong tendency to make our request known to the Lord but with all kinds of strings attached. For instance, if we’re praying for finances, we may have fixed in our mind how we want the finances to come, and subconsciously we start identifying probable sources and means. It might be wiser to take the restrictions off of God and stop trying to work out the how and totally leave it up to Him, so that He can bring the answer as He decides.

Much of the time, we find ourselves defining how the answer is going to manifest rather than truly leaving that area up to the Lord. In the above scripture we don’t see anywhere where the how is addressed. It simply says in verse 9, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

God can get the answer to us in a million and one ways, our job is to simply trust and put an end to the vicious cycle of repeated disappointment and ongoing disillusionment.

Becoming Mary

August 22, 2022 by  
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By Diane Mayfield –

I’d like to think I conquered the Martha in me and have become more like her sister Mary. That’s what I get for thinking. Jesus, in His gentle way, showed me not to think too highly of myself lest I fall.

I recently planned my extended family’s second annual Burton Family Christmas in July. I created a schedule of events on Friday night and Saturday, hoping it was clear to all that the gathering did not start until 6:00 Friday night. That would give me plenty of time to cover all the details and be ready for the crowd. Hoping to circumvent a seed of bitterness creeping in if I was left to do all the work, everyone had meal assignments and clean up duty.

The schedule of events for Saturday included pool time and boating. Built into the plan was a break for me on the boat, so I would have a moment to relax and interact with everyone. Just so no one would forget that they had duties and responsibilities in this family event, I posted the assignments on the refrigerator door in brightly colored magnets that matched my color scheme.

Everyone did indeed have a blast, me included. They complimented me on the flow of the event, the decorations and all the planning. By the laughter and lingering conversations at the table Saturday night, it seemed the celebration was a success.

It was Sunday at 11:00 when Martha appeared in my head. I’d planned on everyone leaving by Sunday morning, noon at the latest. I wrote in an e-mail that nothing officially was scheduled for Sunday, hoping that would communicate, “the inn was closed.”

Oops. Someone didn’t read between the lines. They decided to stay and swim one more time. Then, instead of packing up and going before they left for lunch, they asked if they could come back after lunch, have dessert and then leave.

What do I say in that situation? I had a plan that I was working towards and it was about to be challenged. I politely said “sure.” And then I griped and griped as I worked to organize my house, pick up toys, clean out the refrigerator, empty the dishwasher and start the sheets and towels.

It never occurred to me to go to Jesus and listen to His words and ask for His help in stretching my capacity. I was being asked to give in a way that I had not planned on giving.

I could just hear Jesus saying, “Diane, Diane, why do you worry about getting all this done today and your life back to normal? Can’t you enjoy these people a little longer than you planned? What is really important here?”

No one who asked to change the plan knew of my inner struggle, but the One who matters most did. The good news is that His gentle revelation humbled me. I was reminded that becoming Mary isn’t just about sitting at His feet in the morning because it works for me. It’s about measuring priorities and choosing those that count for eternity. Obviously Martha is still living and breathing in me. I haven’t become Mary yet, but I’m listening.

The Fight for Freedom

August 16, 2022 by  
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By Kathi Woodall –

My older brothers and I have good relationships…now. That hasn’t always been the case. As children, they would team up against me. One would pin me down while the other would tickle me relentlessly. Imaginetwo older boys against an innocent little girl. In response, I learned to kick and flail until I wriggled to freedom. Then I would run for all I was worth.

Freedomthis powerful word defines us both as Americans and as Christians. Our historical battles have thoroughly ingrained freedom into our collective conscience.

Throughout history, many have cried out for freedom. Once freedom appeared on the horizon, I’m sure they also ran for all they were worth. Can you imagine a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz choosing to stay when Soviet troops liberated the camp? Would an inmate in Alcatraz refuse a boat offering passage to freedom? Would a POW at the Hanoi Hilton stay huddled in his cell when the door opened to freedom?

I’ve never been in prison desiring to be free. I’ve never been a soldier defending my freedoms on the battlefield. But I’ve fought a battle for freedom—the spiritual battle for the soul. My freedom was granted because Jesus had already paid the price required to obtain it. He opened the gates, tore down the walls, and loosened the chains. My freedom was there for the taking. Jesus made freedom available for me and for all humanity.

Living in Christ’s freedom has affected my views. Subsequent changes in behavior are evidence of His freedom.

Living free is possible because Christ redeemed me. Nothing I do merits entry into heaven; most of it merits eternity in hell. Despite that, God loves me. He initiated a plan to reverse my course. He sent His Son to die for my sin. With His resurrection, hell was defeated. Satan can now claim no right over me. Resting in the surety of my salvation frees me to live fully, both now and for eternity with Him.

Living free relinquishes my control issues. God is in control, and I’m not. Not having to control every issue frees me to rest and trust in His sovereignty.

Living free shifts my focus. It’s not all about me or even those around me. It’s all about God. Seeing God as the primary focus frees me to maintain a pre-determined order of priorities. I can let go of anything that doesn’t fit within those priorities.

Living free eliminates an environment of fear. Persecution will come. God may call me to do something outside my comfort zone. I’m ok with these things. Letting go of fear frees me to do what God wants me to do.

Living free allows me to live and let live. Other believers are different than I. God didn’t make us all in one mold. He doesn’t want us to live in one mold. Rejoicing in other’s differences frees me to be who God created me to be.

Living free is possible because God extends grace. Grace is fundamental to my salvation and my relationships. Once we’ve basked in the wonder of God’s grace, imprisonment is no longer an option.

If you’re a follower of Christ, you’re already free. Are you stepping out of your prison cell and walking in the freedom He died to give you? “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32 NIV).

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