“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
John 10:10 is, as one of my friends says, “a refrigerator verse.” We post it online, in our homes (perhaps on our refrigerator!) and talk of it often. Almost all of us know these words in some context.
But do we believe it?
The other day I attended the funeral of an older friend; she was a gospel singer who performed all over the world and even at the White House. But as friends talked of her life, I realized something much greater about her than her singing voice: She lived abundantly.
At 21, she was a pastor’s wife, a mother of three (married at 17), was teaching herself how to play the organ so the small church could have music each week, and teaching Bible studies. She and her husband, trying to figure out life, were even counseling older, married couples.
She did it all. But through it all she loved others. She celebrated every single life that came in touch with hers. And, she loved God.
Beside her casket was a photo of her in later life, throwing her head back in laughter. I remember that laughter well. The last time we talked together, we talked of her brain cancer. “They say I’m losing my mind,” she said. “That’s been happening my whole life!” And through the challenges she would say often, “I’m not afraid.”
She was right. She was never afraid of the future. As a hospice nurse came into her room on one of her last days she could speak, she said to the nurse, “How can I pray for you, darling?” That’s the picture of an abundant life.
An abundant life is one where we are so focused on following Jesus Christ that we have less and less time to focus on the circumstances of the day. It is a life of adventure, of joy.
The abundant life takes us on fantastic journeys into another realm where pessimism is replaced with hope, where fear is replaced by faith. A life where sometimes God asks us to do what conventional wisdom would call unthinkable, crazy or silly.
But we follow anyway, with a mischievous smile and a thrill in our hearts—because we are living in another world, a world unseen by the conventional wisdom of the day.
As we enter a new year, let’s choose the journey of the abundant life. We don’t know where the path leads, but isn’t that the fun of living in the heart of God’s will?
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” I Timothy 1:15
Paul’s famous statement that he was the “foremost” of all sinners is not extraordinary because he is stating a fact. Instead, it is powerful because of Paul’s perspective, a point of view which exemplifies humility.
Was Paul really the number one sinner in the world at that point in history? Surely not. And this is the same Paul who encourages others to imitate him and his walk of faith (I Cor. 4:16) and who explains his past behavior by saying “Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13).
What’s important here is Paul’s point of view. Just as Jesus told us to “first get the log out of your own eye” before correcting others (Matt. 7:3-5), Paul is using this foundational teaching to remind himself and his readers that neither he nor any of us is beyond the need for redemption.
This is, in every sense of the word, a “humble” perspective. We need this, every day.
In our mission, we see many who are struggling with various moral challenges. To effectively reach those we see, our first stop on this journey is to think of ourselves as Paul described, as “foremost of all sinners.” Without berating ourselves, this is a point of view which simply acknowledges that we too, have faults. They may not be the same faults of those we see, but they are shortcomings nonetheless.
Once we see ourselves as “foremost,” our point of view toward the person in front of us changes. Instead of “I need to tell you that . . .” we see this as a “Let’s walk this journey together” moment. From there, the conversation takes a new direction.
The good news is, Paul didn’t spend time dwelling on his sinfulness, and neither should we. He glanced at his standing as a sinner, but gazed on the grace of God and the road in front of him that would lead to glory.
So can we. When we choose the right focus from the right perspective, those who come in our door will be able to see the love of God within us. And this is where lives are changed.
“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Gal. 3:6-7
For Abraham, believing God was, without doubt, the most challenging time of his life. We have read the rest of Abraham’s story, a story of God’s intervention after Abraham was willing to entrust his own son to God.
Yet, Abraham wasn’t able to read the rest of the story. He had to trust in a God he only knew on his own. Think about it; Abraham came before Moses, the Exodus and The Red Sea. He knew nothing of Joshua, of the Walls of Jericho, or of David and Goliath.
This is a man who had to trust wholly in God’s communication with him. And he did.
We usually think of “believing” as a point of agreement or intellectual assent to an idea, as in “I believe you when you say you will be here at nine o’clock.” But for Abraham, believing meant he had to act. He had to take Isaac out of their home, on a journey that he believed could end the life of his precious first-born.
Our “believing God” takes on the same characteristics as Abraham’s. If we walk through the Greek understanding of the word “Believe,” we will see that it means to “trust in, rely on, adhere to.” That’s what Abraham did. And God saw this as righteousness.
When we believe God in our work, in our families and in our everyday lives, we are saying in essence, “We trust in your ways, oh God, even when the lives we lead and the decisions we make aren’t understood by the world around us.”
It is this believing that our clients and patients should see in us; a belief that trusts in God even when we can’t see what the future holds. If we believe, those who come in our doors can catch our trust in God, and perhaps for the first time, see what it means to live a life of faith.
Like Abraham, we believe. And when we do, God turns to His right hand and says to Jesus, “Now there is a righteous one.”
That’s something worth believing in.
"Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to respond to each person." Col. 4:5-6
For a moment, let's place ourselves in the shoes of one who enters one of our centers or residential homes. Think of all of the flooding emotions, uncertainties and questions.
The first-time visitor to a pregnancy help organization knows little about us beyond an advertisement or a friend's referral. Now, she (or he) is suddenly alone, at the mercies of those inside the door.
Concerns and questions arise from everywhere. Will they be nice to me? Will they judge me? Do they care about me? Do they have an agenda? Will this cost me something either financially or emotionally? What kind of people offer this for free? Will they try and control me in some way?
These are legitimate questions, coming from a lens of cynicism toward a society where we are told to "get what you can, whenever you can," or to ask, "What's in it for me?"
She feels like an outsider and has legitimate fears any outsider might face.
This is where Paul's words ring so true: "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace . . . ."
Different situations require different pearls of wisdom, and as we look at each person we see as an opportunity to impart God's perspective and hope into a situation, we gain clarity as to what we should say, and how to say it.
Speaking with grace is the foundation of so much of what we do. Those we see, whether they admit it or not, often feel judged. Interestingly, this judgment is often internal. Speaking with grace can often turn an "I feel judged" situation into, "I can change, and here is my opportunity!"
Utilizing wisdom, and speaking with grace don't guarantee that we will always see positive outcomes in those we see. But, these two characteristics do lend themselves to hope; and we never know where a little hope can lead.
Servants of Excellence
"I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." I Cor. 2:3
What is it in this work that makes you fearful? Is it standing in front of a group, presenting on behalf of the ministry? Is it sitting in front of an intimidating patient or client, wondering how to respond to a question or how to best speak to her heart?
The Bible has news for those of us who are fearful at times: It's okay.
People can intimidate us; situations can, too. These are both natural results that come from stepping out of our comfort zones and relying upon God. The Apostle Paul knew this feeling well. When he first approached the Corinthians, he admits, "I did not come to you with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God."
Instead, Paul tells them he wanted to put forth the simple message of the Gospel, and he did so "in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
There is a major point in Paul's writings here: While we may be fearful at times, our willingness to press on with whatever God calls us to do has the ability to demonstrate God's power in and through each of us.
If we enter any bookstore we can find a plethora of books on self-confidence, or on how to effectively persuade others. This isn't to criticize these books; they certainly have their place.
But . . . sometimes it is perfectly within God's will to be fearful and perhaps tremble a bit, too. When we are fearful—and are willing to admit such as Paul did—our audience (whether one client or hundreds of people) can easily identify with us.
Paul had fears. But instead of letting those fears dictate his life, he decided to be open and honest about those fears so that he could press on with the message he was called to share.
If we are ever afraid in this life-saving work then, this is hardly a bad thing. In fact, our fears remind us that we share a special bond with one of the greatest apostles. And, we can take heart in the truth that our fear can be an avenue for showing the mighty power of God in each of us.
Valentine's Day brings thoughts of chocolate, cards, cute little stuffed animals, candlelight dinners and so much more. The merchants love this day, filling greeting card racks with hearts and cupids the week after Christmas. We are flooded with advertisements, reminding us to honor our chosen Valentine appropriately (errr, expensively!).
Yet, Valentine's Day is also a great time to reflect on love, real love. Powerful love. Life changing love.
If we are honest, all of us are on a continuing journey to better understand love and to grow in our love for God and our love for those around us. None of us on this Earth today has the idea of love completely figured out. None of us is perfect in accepting love, and none of us lives out a flawless life of giving love.
The good news? We have a perfect example in Jesus. Having lived among us, he knows something about how difficult it can be to love. He knows the struggle of conflict, he knows what it means to be misunderstood, and he knows—better perhaps than any of us—the pain of rejection.
As we follow Jesus and look to emulate his love, he brings words of incredible hope in John 13:34, giving all of us a starting point for understanding the true nature of love.
Talking to the disciples, Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another."
Was this commandment actually "new?"
Yes. To the disciples in fact, relating love to living out faith in this world was actually revolutionary thinking. Here is why:
The disciples knew, and tried to follow, the Old Testament Law. Yet, while there were many commandments in this Law, there were no laws commands focused on loving others. Yes, there were many regulations on how to treat others, but no specific teachings on loving others.
God sent Jesus to introduce love in a new way. We see this in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord takes many Old Testament laws and adds to them, "But I say to you . . . ." He was introducing a higher standard for our thinking and behavior based on a foundation of love.
Today, we still have this "new" foundation for our faith which weaves a tapestry throughout our lives: Love.
If every action we take is launched from love, the world changes. If the truth be known, the world around us is not quickly attracted to faith's perspective on social issues (such as life), behavior and relationships.
The world however, is always attracted to those who truly love others selflessly. Jesus knew this, showing us that if we love, we are more likely to move a culture toward God.
Valentine's Day can be fun and full of nice surprises. Yet there is a greater love that can be new every day.
So take heart. If our launching point for each day is love, we are on the right track. Jesus tells us so, and he changed the world.
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Eph. 2:10
As I reflect on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, I am reminded of this beautiful verse from Ephesians. How wonderful that we are created like poetry – with workmanship.
The words, "Poetry in motion" are generally defined as someone moving gracefully. It's a phrase used to describe anyone from a fabulous dancer to the moves of an elite basketball player.
Most believe that the term began with the 1961 song Poetry in Motion, by Johnny Tillotson. The idea however, may have started much earlier, in the New Testament.
Paul writes in Ephesians that we are God's "workmanship," this particular word coming from the Greek word "Poema." This is the same word of course, from which we glean the idea of a poem. It is not a stretch then, to say that we are in fact, God's poem. We are created to do good works to change our world.
Tweet this! It is not a stretch then, to say that we are in fact, God's poem.
Years ago I heard a children's poet tell a class of elementary students that when writing a poem he often went through more than 100 drafts before finding the words, the rhythm, and the connection his readers needed so that he could say, "Finished."
I doubt God needed 100 "drafts" when creating us. I'm sure He got it right the first time. Yet, we can be assured that just like a poet, God took great care in creating each of us—and Paul tells us He did so for a reason: Good works.
If nowhere else, here we can see the sanctity of our own lives and all human life in God's careful creation!
Serving in a pregnancy help organization truly reflects a desire to do these good works, works God created for us to "walk in them."
Every client, every patient, every resident, every single person we come across is an opportunity to walk in a good work God desires for us to complete.
So take heart. We are God's poems – created in his workmanship – and as we move forward to serve, assist and walk alongside those we see, we are truly "Poetry in Motion."
"But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13
None of us wants to be involved in sin. It's an ugly thing and as Christians we certainly want to avoid whatever it is that tempts us. Still, in the real world, avoiding sin is not easy.
What would we do if there were a "sin shot" we could take that would shield us from falling into vicious anger, gossip, hatred or any one of the sins that can so easily overtake our minds?
What if someone came up to us and said, "Here's the vaccine; take this and if you continue with regular doses and up the medication when temptation comes, you'll likely avoid doing wrong altogether!"?
Would I take that shot? Yep . . . And the writer of Hebrews gives us our "Sin Antidote" in Hebrews 3:13. The antidote is simple - encouragement.
The writer here is not giving us a nice phrase to remember, but a proven fact for the Christian: Spend your day encouraging, and sin will flee your mind and your actions. The hardened heart you fear will never be a problem for you.
Often I can see the word "encourage" as only icing on the Christian cake - a nice addition to the walk of faith, but nothing to get too excited about. Yet that's not what the writer of Hebrews is saying. To the writer, encouragement is essential.
Shifting my thinking, I need to see encouragement as an integral part of every day in my life. Who have I encouraged today? And how? Who needs encouragement?
The writer's point I believe, is this: When we make encouragement a daily focus, we no longer have time for temptation—or yielding to temptations. Encouragement builds relationships, and builds up a foundation for a stronger Body of Christ.
So take heart. Today is the day to encourage. When we do, our hearts remain soft and our ability to be mighty in the faith becomes strong.
“One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21B
Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler fascinates me. You know the story; a rich young man came to Jesus, asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus draws the man in, telling him to obey the commandments, and the ruler replies, “I have kept all these things from my youth.” Jesus then turns to the heart, asking the man to sell his riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow. Sadly, the rich young ruler chooses not to do so. This story is not about the poor, but about what we must release in order to fully follow our Lord, Jesus. In the rich young ruler’s life, he had his “fall back plan”—his wealth—that he could rely on for security and safety. He was happy to follow, as long as he could keep his stuff. That’s not how things work in the kingdom of God. We all have fall back items we must be willing to release. Wealth is one of those, but others might be reputation, pride in our own abilities, status, or something else. Yet there is a flip side. We often think of letting go of those things that are positive in our lives—such as wealth, etc.—but what about those negative moments in our past that must be set aside in order to follow with abandon? Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to “lay aside everything that hinders” us from fully following Jesus, right? Paul isn’t only talking of sin, but all that hinders us. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we define ourselves by our past. When we do this, we create our own “fall back” position, just like the rich young ruler. For us however, our hindrance is not wealth, it is the idea that we can never fully follow because of a past decision that disqualifies us from full participation in the Body of Christ. Instead of dwelling on the new person we are, we continue to look back, trying to make amends for what we did, many years ago. I think Jesus’ message to the rich young ruler, the command to “let go,” is not only for those who have to let go of a safety net, but also for all of us who struggle with a past decision that we’ve let define who we are. Take heart. Today is the day to let go. Today is the day to press on, to follow with abandon. And today is the day to define ourselves not by who we once were, but by who we are . . . Today.
Are you one of those who has a tendency to compare yourself to others? I can be. And my comparisons often show me coming up . . . short.
Others appear more engaging, more educated, more everything. They seem to have the very gifts I don’t possess.
The funny thing is, I may be exactly right. Not all of us are alike. God gives different gifts and talents to each of us and for His reasons only, some appear to have more than others.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 tells us of a master giving talents (a measure of money) to three servants. One received five talents, another two, and another, one. We know the story well.
The servant who received five talents made five more, and the servant who received just one talent hid his away and made nothing. The first servant was rewarded with greater authority. The third was cast aside for not using what he was given.
But what about the servant in the middle ... the one who received two talents? We see no record of him complaining about receiving just two talents, and there is nothing in the text about any grumbling over the difficulty in making more money with only two—while another was given five.
Instead, we see a servant who took no time to compare to another and instead went to work with what he had. In the end, he gained two more talents. Do you know what fascinates me about the master’s response? For both the servant who received two talents and the one who received five, the reward is the same.
Both servants are told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt. 25:21, 23)
I suspect many of us feel we are a little short of talents at times. And yet, the Lord is only asking us to take what we have and give our best. If we build on what we have, He receives joy--which He then invites us into.
So today, let’s all take heart. The joy of our master is not dependent on the number of talents we receive, but on how we use the ones we have.
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