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).

Unbroken by the Storm

July 27, 2022 by  
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By Diane Mayfield –

When I first started coming to Navarre Beach, I was drawn to the mounds of broken shells I saw. They appeared in little groupings, like villages, up and down the shoreline. They were beautiful in their diverse colors and shapes, lying on top of each other, as if to form a whole community.

Because I was then struggling with Christian brothers and sisters at that time, I saw those broken shells as Christian communities. Like those shells, we too are broken when we come to Christ, desperate in our need for a Savior. While He does His mighty work in us, we still have weaknesses that keep us from being holy and complete.

Mercy, compassion and a good dose of humility filled my heart because of those broken shells. I saw my Christian brothers and sisters and, most of all, I saw myself, just like them.

This trip I’m drawn to the unbroken shells. Not because I’m now into being perfect. Oh no, it’s for quite another reason.

I just started Beth Moore’s study of James. The first lesson begins with quite a punch. “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (NIV James 1:2). She goes on to make the point that trials will come. That’s life. God uses those trials to perfect us. It’s our faith that gets us through those storms of life.

By abiding in Him through trust and prayer, we will come through those storms unbroken, like the shells. Hurricane Isaac sent his forceful wind, rain and storm surges up and down the Gulf Coast a few weeks before I arrived. Navarre Beach felt his impact. Debris litters the sand as a result of Isaac’s power. The shoreline eroded in places and parts of the beach vanished.

And yet, there in the sand, I discovered hundreds, probably thousands but who’s really counting, of unbroken shells. Those shells made it through the storm unscathed. They spoke to me of the lesson I began. I, too, can come through the storms of life, the various trials, unbroken. When I persevere in faith, Jesus turns those trials into joy for what He is completing in me. It doesn’t mean I won’t feel pain or experience negative emotions. But, like Louie Zamperini in the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, I will come out of my storms, whole in Jesus.

Hence, this time the unbroken shells call to me. They made it through the storm and so can we all because of our wonderful Savior Jesus.

Can I Help You?

July 19, 2022 by  
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By Richard Gammill –

It’s the afternoon of Good Friday and Noah and I are stuck in heavy traffic on I-35. I want to finish my errands so I can get to the early evening services. It’s looking more and more like I won’t make it.

I love these times in my pickup with six-year-old Noah. We talk about many things. I try not to waste these teaching opportunities. I ask, “Noah, do you know what is special about this weekend?”

“It’s going to be Easter, Grandpa,” he answers.

“Why do we celebrate Easter, Noah? What is it about?”

“Well, it’s about when a bad man got money for showing where Jesus was.”

“What was that man’s name?”

“I don’t know, but he did a very bad thing.”

“What happened then, Noah?”

“Well, they took Jesus and they put him on a cross and they pounded big nails in his hands and his feet.”

“What happened then?”

“He died, Grandpa. But then he came back!”

“Why did he suffer and die like that, Noah?”

“It’s because he loves us so much.”

“Now what does he want us to do?”

“He loves us very much. Now he wants us to love him.”

“And how do we show that we love Jesus?”

“We show it by loving people and helping people. Like when someone falls down, we don’t say, ‘What happened to you?’ We ask ‘Can I help you?’”

Our conversation moved to other things, and, as I feared, the slow-moving traffic prevented me from making it to the Good Friday service. But Noah took advantage of a teachable moment to remind me the meaning of Good Friday anyway.

Settle for Good-Miss the Best

July 12, 2022 by  
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By Kathi Woodall –

Three p.m. I turned into the parking lot of my daughter’s home school group and drove to my spot at the end of the pick-up line. As I waited, more vehicles lined up behind mine while other parents walked out of the building having already retrieved their children. One particular mom exited with her two small children. As she walked toward her car, I realized I would block her in.

Moments ticked by as I alternated my attention between watching her buckle her two little ones into car seats and watching for the assistant director to come out of the building with her walkie-talkie and start the car line moving. Would the line move in time for me to pull my car forward before the mom was ready to make her exit? She buckled in one child. No sign of the assistant director. As she strapped in the second child, the assistant director appeared and started speaking children’s names into her walkie-talkie. The line slowly crept into action; I should be able to move out of the way soon.

The timing was perfect as the mom opened her own door and sat down while I gently let off the brake to allow my car to pull forward. I watched in my rear-view mirror to see if the lady behind me would wait for the mom to back out of her parking spot. I shook my head as I watched her pull forward without a moment’s hesitation. Busily texting on her cell phone, she was oblivious to the plight of the mom with the two small children waiting to exit her parking spot.

I immediately thought of myself. I often focus so intently on one activity that I am insensible to the needs of those around me or to God calling me in a new direction.

The mom behind me did nothing wrong; she may have had a good reason to text. Likewise, several times I find myself doing good things–lunch with a friend, teach a Bible study, write a new book. I’m comfortable with these things; they are an easy place to stay focused. However, God sometimes calls me to something else for a moment–visit a sick relative, start a new study group, help a friend at work. The original object of my attention may have been valid, but it wasn’t the best that God had for me at that time.

I don’t want to focus so much on the good that I miss out on the best. I don’t want to be so used to the ordinary that I am oblivious to the extraordinary. I don’t want to be satisfied with anthills of ministry when God is calling me to move mountains.

“O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. I finally understand — you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart’” Psalm 40:5-8.

The Ties That Bind

July 6, 2022 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Richard Gammill –

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (II Corinthians 6:18).

Strong family connections create strong—and sometimes surprising—emotions.

“Grandpa!” shouted little Noah as he threw open the door and ran toward me arms opened wide. He jumped into my arms and squeezed my neck.

“Grandpa, let’s go see trains.” His Paul Newman-blue eyes held my attention.

How could I resist? We climbed the stairs—I climbed, Noah ran—to my study and turned on the computer. Noah loves trains. We spent the next hour on the Internet with him on my lap as we looked at videos and pictures of trains.

“Grandpa, we’re best buddies. Can we go swimming now?”

By the time I got to the bedroom, Noah had his clothes off and his swimsuit on. In the pool, he found the water cannon, pumped it full, aimed it at me, and began firing.

“Noah, you are a rascal,” I said, as I stood there dripping wet.

“Grandpa, when do I get to start playing soccer like my sisters?”

“Pretty soon, Noah. And you will probably play baseball and football like your uncles did. I can hardly wait to watch you play. Won’t that be fun?”

“Will you come to my games, Grandpa?”

“Noah, nothing could keep me away!”

That night while I was trying to get to sleep, my thoughts drifted from my day with Noah to my friend Harold and his grandson, Bart. A shadow crept over me and filled me with sadness.

By the time Bart graduated from high school, Harold and his wife, Elaine, had driven thousands of miles crisscrossing the state of Kansas attending every baseball game Bart played in. They traveled even more miles attending performances of his choral group and marching band.

Following his graduation, Bart was accepted into a chiropractic college and prepared to move that fall to Kansas City. Then his girlfriend left him, plunging Bart into a pit of despair. A few days later, his body was found next to his pickup on a lonely Kansas road.

He had taken his own life.

My day with Noah gave me fresh insight into Harold’s devastating loss. The pain of Harold’s daily visits to his grandson’s gravesite gripped me. What could be harder than losing a child or grandchild?

The next morning the news on my computer reported the tragedy met by a group of Ohio high school students during their mission trip to Costa Rica. Five students swimming in the Pacific Ocean at a dangerous beach were caught by a riptide and swept out to sea. Two were rescued, but three drowned. Their bodies were found later. I turned to the ABC news report and made an emotional connection with one of the young students, her family, and mine. Her father teaches at her private high school and her grandfather is a retired Nazarene minister like me. She had planned to attend a Nazarene college. My two oldest granddaughters are students at a sister Nazarene college.

That family’s tragic loss shook me. I experienced a moment of terror as I imagined my reaction if my granddaughter had met a similar fate during her trips to China and Uganda.

Close family ties establish our priorities and give meaning to our lives. The phrase, “Family, first, last, and always,” describes an affair of the heart. It is a heart affair that connects our Heavenly Father with his earthly children. The crucifixion of His “only begotten Son” unites us with God’s heart forever. When our heart responds in faith to His sacrifice it brings us into a family relationship with Him.

Heavenly Father, thank You for making me Your child and giving me the assurance of having a Friend who sticks with me closer than a brother.

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