Tuesday, March 31, 2015

This World is Not My Home by Terry Gardner

This world is not My Home
By Terry Gardner
In his later years my grandfather used to ask Christians, “Who is ready to go to heaven? … right NOW?!”  Few people ever raised their hands or indicated they were ready to go immediately.  Much of the problem is that we are too invested in this life.  We have nice houses, good incomes, and pleasant lives here on earth.  We’ll be ready to go to heaven when all of that is gone and our health is gone too.  Otherwise, don’t sign me up.

The early Christians thought of themselves as pilgrims.  Their citizenship was in heaven.  The Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen but he knew that his true citizenship was heaven (Phil 3:20).  Paul did not spend his time trying to better the government of Rome nor did he lead any social reforms.  Paul was determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) because that is all that ultimately matters.  Paul encouraged Christians to “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.”  (Col. 3:2).

The world can seem like a very unsettled place at times.  The storms of life often come upon us.  We need to be like Peter and look toward Jesus and the home he has prepared for us.  As long as Peter looked at Jesus he could even walk on water but as soon as he looked away from Jesus and toward the storms he began to sink because he was afraid (Matt. 14:22-31).  So it is with us.  We get too invested in this life and things of this world and then the storms begin to bother us and we begin to sink into frustration, despair and fear.

We need to follow the great men and women of faith who knew they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth.  Remember Abraham who by faith “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who where heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.”  (Heb. 11:9-10).  When you pass through a foreign country on a temporary basis do you spend time railing against their laws and customs or do you stay focused on where your real home is?  The world is getting worse we often think and if so, what of it?  This world is not my home and I will not invest here.

I would encourage all Christians to focus on what Paul focused on.  Your citizenship is in heaven and your thoughts, hopes and dreams should be on the perfect place God created for his children, not on a broken earth where that which is crooked cannot be made straight and that will only wax worse and worse until God destroys it with a fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10) and time shall be no more.

Are you ready to go heaven?  NOW?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Health Ministry Newsletter-March 2015 by Lisa Fleetwood

Support Me!

I recently started a healthy lifestyle support group at my church. Several members requested such a group and, since I knew by experience that a supportive network could significantly contribute to positive behavior change, I thought it would be a great idea. Our small group was founded on the faith principles of love, accountability, support, and encouragement. Of course, we committed to an environment of non-judgment and trust and this atmosphere encouraged each of us to give a true account of our struggles. I distinctly remember, following one such open exchange, a group member commented, “I never knew others struggled the way I do.” This sentiment has stayed with me, a stinging reminder of the sometimes lack of transparency found in our faith-communities. As a longtime health coach and wellness counselor, I knew that the vast majority of people struggled to either maintain or regain their health. As a faith-based health and wellness speaker, I knew that Christians were no different. With so many people fighting the uphill battle of weight loss and/or disease management, why is it that church members still feel so alone? The faith-community is the perfect location to receive life-changing, power-filled, support.

Faith-Community Support

Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Encouragement. In this passage, the Hebrew writer reveals an essential charge for Christians, encouragement. It is important to note that the encouragement described shouldn’t be delivered sporadically, but daily. Interestingly, the author provides us with the exact danger of living a life without the regular intervention of our brothers and sisters, a heart that has been hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Ephesians 4:18 states, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” A hardened heart is synonymous, in God’s word, with ignorance and lack of understanding. To avoid this dangerous pitfall, encourage and be encouraged by your church family through words, prayers, calls, emails, mid-week lunches, and cards (among many other things!).

James 5:16 (MSG)
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.”

Confession. The confession of our sins to one another is essential. To confess is to reveal, disclose, acknowledge, and admit. Do you know what sins your brothers and sisters are struggling to overcome? Do they know what you are working to change? If not, why not? James says that when others know your sins, they can pray for you, using the power of prayerful intervention to make you whole again. Don’t be afraid to share your burdens and reveal your deepest issues. In doing so, you will bring light into the darkness. Ephesians 5:13-14 (NIV) states,
“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

Take these steps to build and maintain support within your faith-community today.

Stay in touch. When we repeatedly struggle with the same issues, it's easy to feel ashamed and isolate ourselves but support can be crucial in getting us back on track. So answer those phone calls, emails and texts, even when you're feeling down OR make some calls of your own. Reach out and ask for the support you desperately need.

Recognize the importance of give and take. Express your appreciation for support and be ready to return the favor and help others achieve their goals. Don’t be so consumed with your own issues that you forget the abundant blessing (and Biblical charge) of lifting others up.

Find the right person (or people) for the job. Maybe you thought your best friend would be a good person to vent to, but your friend is going through a tough time. That friend may make a better walking partner instead. Be open to learning who can support you in what manner: emotional, practical, spiritual or inspirational.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Mythic Idea of the "Limited Good" by Greg York

A Myth That We (Unfortunately) Live By: The Idea of the “Limited Good”                                                                          


I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  -- John 10.10b


I have been thinking a lot about abundance and scarcity lately. OK, mainly scarcity. With Kegan about to go off to college, we will be suffering a double-whammy of “maltuition” for some time. And there are aging vehicles. And we just had to replace some flooring at the house. And I think there’s a leak in a corner of our roof. And… Well, there’s always something, isn’t there


The reality is that all of these are what we might call “first world” problems. None of them are “existential” problems; that is, my life is not endangered if the carpet continues to fall apart or if the car “gives up the ghost,” and no, though I still haven’t figured out how to cover the year (or two) of overlap with two in college, my life does not actually depend on figuring that out. 


But they sure feel like existential problems in my little emotional world sometimes.


At those moments, I’m buying in to something anthropologists and sociologists call the idea of the “limited good.”


About fifty years ago, an anthropologist studying peasant cultures came up with (or at least, put words to) the idea of the limited good. One aspect of those peasant cultures was that the people in them seemed to live by a zero-sum mentality – there’s only so much of any of life’s good things, whether material or not. Now, it is true there’s only so much land, for instance. But somehow that concept is transferred to other things we desire, even need; things such as love and friendship, honor and respect, influence and status…there’s only so much and they will always be in short supply.


The defining quality, then, of such a life is scarcity. Such a life is a life of “can’t,” not “can.” It is a life that focuses on limits, that is afraid of loss, and that sees other people as competitors for what is available.


Unfortunately, it turns out the idea of the limited good is not restricted to “peasant cultures”: We are not so far removed despite our economic success and technical prowess.


The Galilee of the first century AD, the Galilee of Jesus’ day, was such a peasant society. And that’s what makes Jesus’ message stand out so much against that backdrop.


He comes talking about abundance. Not a material abundance, but an abundance grounded in God’s gracious, loving generosity.


He goes around saying things such as


Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7.7-11)


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6.25-33)


This is not “health-and-wealth gospel,” the idea that God wants you to be a winner, a rich winner at that, in life. No, Jesus is pushing back against the idea of “limited good.” God is not limited in his ability to give us what we need, when we need it. And he gives us what we really need to thrive, not just wealth (and aren’t we culturally conditioned to think that wealth is really all we need to thrive?).


What difference would it make in our lives if we approached the world not as a place of tremendous limitation, but as a world of potentially vast abundance because God cares about his people? What difference would it make in how we live if we took Jesus’ words – just the words we’ve read in this post—seriously?


In this country, we are tempted every day to pursue self-centered dreams of lavish prosperity, a prosperity measured most often by having more than others.


And we worry – constantly – about not having enough, even when we have all we need. Our self-centered dreams seem to breed fear.


(By the way, in Jesus’ story of the “Rich Fool” (Luke 12.13-21), this man apparently sees excess abundance as something to be hoarded, since God might not provide so well in the future. And this story seems to address the very contemporary issue of mistaking God’s goodness for an entitlement to wealth. Isn’t the guy in the story living a self-centered dream of lavish prosperity?)


In stark contrast, in the gospel of Christ, we are called to live every day in a generosity born of confidence in God’s provision for us. In the gospel, we are invited to live in the idea of the abundant, loving, providing God.


There will always be opportunities provided by life for us to operate according to the idea of the “limited good” and to become nervous and take our eyes off God’s goodness and get all negative and down about it all. I know, because I do that often and well. I am well-practiced at it. But I’m trying to learn a new practice. I’m trying to learn to listen to Jesus and relax in God’s loving provision of all I really need.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Loss and a Daughter's Faith by Mike DeCamp

This week was my daughter, Andrea’s spring break from Harding University, and last Saturday morning, I was looking forward to seeing her when she arrived home that evening.  When I got up that morning, my wife had already left to go into her office for some early Saturday morning work, but she had left me a note:  “Call me.”

Have you ever gotten an emotional punch in the gut?  Had the wind sucked out of your sails?

I called my wife.  She had news.  “Andrea’s friend, Nicholas was killed in a car accident this morning.”

Nicholas Smith was an excellent student at Harding.  A Bible major from Buford, Georgia, he was planning to work in the ministry as a career.  Looking forward to that, he had agreed to an internship this summer at a congregation in Syracuse, New York.  And, he and his girlfriend were headed there for spring break, along with a number of other Harding students, on a mission trip, when his car was involved in a multi-vehicle pile-up near Louisville.  The Lord took him home.

He was a good friend to my daughter.

My heart immediately went out to Andrea.  In her four years at Harding, this would be the third person that she has known who has been killed in a car accident on the way to or from school.  And, Nicholas was close.  She and Nicholas had been friends since her freshman year.  Good friends.  He had accompanied her to social functions, and they regularly hung in the same circle of friends.  Laughing.  Joking.  Playing games and goofing off.  I just knew she was going to take it extremely hard.

You see, last year, she was deeply heartbroken when a girl in her dorm had died, and she was not nearly as close to that young woman.  As her father, it tore me up to see her in so much pain.  And, I worried that this one would be so much more devastating.  Grief can be incredibly debilitating, and I worried about how it would affect her…especially as she herself was on the road, driving the nine hours home.

As her father, I remain concerned, but I am no longer anxious about it.  In fact, I am now quite proud of her.

Rather than withdrawing into a cocoon of self-despair, she instead poured herself into others.  After she had gotten the news, and in the midst of her own deep-seated grief, she began to phone many of their mutual friends, in order to break the news (before they read it on Facebook, etc) and to be their “shoulder” to cry on.  She gave to others despite her own sorrow, and her heart has made me proud.
Not that she isn’t going to struggle.  I know she will.  But, just so you can get a glimpse of how she is handling it, here is a tweet she sent out on Monday: 
I'm not okay, but I will be and God is still good and present in my life.”
I am proud of her for two reasons.  First, she has her own faith, and she has matured within it to the point that she can stand firmly knowing that God is there for her.   Second, she has matured spiritually to the point that her heart for other people has more power in her life than her own personal pain or struggles.  She is her own woman with her own faith, and that faith is strong.

As I write this, she has gone to Georgia to attend Nicholas’ memorial service.  She was even asked to share some memories during the service.  It cut our time with her short this week, but she needed to go.  For Nicholas.  For her friends.  And, for the Smith family.  There would have been no way that Nancy and I could have stood in her way.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  2 Timothy 1:5

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 3:14-15

Like Timothy, I can see the sincerity of my daughter’s faith, and I know that so much of it finds its roots in how my wife trained her in her youth.  (And I hope I played a little part too.)  But even so, she has made it her own, and it has blossomed to maturity within her heart.  I watched Nicholas Smith’s memorial service online, and his faith was obvious as well.  His faith also was his own, and he gave to everyone around him.  His faith impacted everyone he had contact with.  No wonder they were friends.

To bring this around to us…

Riding along with my pride in my daughter are some challenges for my own heart.

How often do I let my own struggles get the better of me?  How often do I let my discouragements cause me to slide into my own personal cocoon?  Is my own faith strong enough that I would be giving to others through my own turmoil?

Isn’t it something when you start learning from and being challenged by your own child?  (That makes me proud too.)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3-4

We all know this, right?  We need to have the needs and concerns of others on our hearts, to postpone our own needs and concerns in order to care for our neighbors.  But, to do that while in the midst of personal pain is the ultimate challenge.  It’s just plain hard.  However, looking to the needs around us might be the best, most effective way of dealing with our own pain.  Something to think about.


To the young parents out there reading this, let me leave you with a couple of thoughts to reflect on…

1.       Share your FAITH with your children…not just your religion.  Let them see it living in you.

2.       The greatest gift you can give your child is the example of your faithfulness.  Your example shouts louder than your words ever will.

Give to your children the tools to make you proud of their faith too.

To close, I ask all of you to keep the Smith family in your prayers.  May God bless them with peace and the touch of His loving hands on their shoulders.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Our First Flying Trip by Clint Davis

Our First Flying Trip
By Clint Davis

Growing up, my father’s favorite hobby was flying.  He was a Private Pilot and for many years he was also a ground school instructor.  When I graduated from college, I got my pilots license and Karen & I took our first flying trip together in my dad’s two-seat Cessna 150.  We had a family friend who was getting married in Nashville, Tennessee.  I was excited.  Karen’s parents (Dave & Bernice White) were driving down and would pick us up at the airport to take us to the wedding ceremony. 
It was a crisp winter morning when we took off from the Greenwood Airport.  With a cruise speed of about 100mph it would take us about 2 ½ hours to make Nashville.  Our route would take us over the Hoosier National Forest, then just west of the restricted airspace of Fort Knox, KY, south to Bowling Green  and  on to Nashville.
We landed at Cornelia Fort Airport a small public airport just across the Cumberland River from the Grand Ole Opry.  We touched down and taxied to the plane parking area and went inside the small terminal building where we anxiously waited for Dave and Bernice to pick us up.  5 minutes became 15, then 30, then 60 with no sign of our ride.  This was before cell phones, so we had no idea where they were and could not contact them.  We were in a city where we did not know anyone.
The start of the wedding was getting closer so we decided to call a cab.  The cab arrived and off we went.  About 10 minutes from the airport, we thought we saw Dave & Bernice’s light blue Buick Regal heading the other way.  We hurriedly had the cab driver turn around so we could connect with them.  10 minutes later we were back at the airport and Dave and Bernice were nowhere to be found.  We had just ran up a $25 cab fare (my only cash) to take us right back to where we had started.
As the taxi pulled away, the first major test of our marriage vows had already begun to take shape. We were extremely frustrated.  My perfect flying trip had crash landed.  It was not looking good and we were almost ready to get back in the plane and fly home, when an airplane mechanic took pity on us and told us he would take us to the wedding.  He refused to take any money, even though I didn’t have any to give him.  After clearing out some junk in his back seat to make space for Karen to sit, we were off.   As we pulled up to the Vanderbilt wedding chapel, the last guests were coming out the door to head to the wedding reception.  If we had arrived five minutes later, we would have missed everyone.  We thanked our gracious transportation angel and jumped into a relative’s car to drive to the reception.
At the reception, we connected with Dave and Bernice and found out that they had gotten lost trying to find the airport and ran out of time to pick us up.  We had some cake, greeted the bride and groom and then had to head back before it got too dark because the airport did not have any runway lights.

Twenty five years later, Karen and I look back on that experience and laugh.  That airport in Nashville is gone and the couple we went to see get married are no longer together.  (However Bernice is still my favorite mother-in-law.)  At the time, the problems we were having that day seemed monumental.  Since then, Karen surviving a car accident with a drunk driver, the sudden loss of my dad and the loss of other close friends are just a few experiences that have helped us to change our perspective on how we view life’s daily challenges. 

I am reminded of the words from a poem:

God has not promised skies always blue with flower strewn pathways all our lives through. 
God has not promised sun with rain, joy without sorrow and peace without pain. 
But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labor, light for the way, grace for the trials, strength from above, unfailing sympathy and undying love.

Our prayer to God is one of thanks for getting us through those tough days and to provide us strength for those that are yet to come.

Psalm 46:1 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.