Creating Community

ELIZABETH SANTELMANN|GUEST This evening I was sitting alone in the dark, rocking back and forth. The baby wouldn’t settle, and I started thinking about how many hours I had sat in that chair, rocking alone. I wondered how many of the other young mothers were also around the world rocking back and forth—all of us separated but joined in the community of the rocking chair. I receive many messages on Instagram from moms everywhere longing for friendship. From moms who feel lonely. From moms who long for connection with others. Why does community seem so hard and overwhelming to find as adults? Why is there not more practical advice on how we can build adult relationships? The messages I received from other moms revealed we sort ourselves into two camps: Women who are longing for friendship, but don’t even know where to start. Women who have walked alone so long they don’t even realize they need other women beside them. These women often claim all they need are their families. However, the Bible teaches that we are created to have community with one another. We are created in the image of God and reflect His character. If we had been created in the image of a solitary God, then claiming to not need friends would make sense; however, we are created in the image of a triune God. Our God, in His essence, represents community! This means, we image Him when we are in relationship with others.   This means, we weren’t crafted to just observe the lives of others on social media, read the stories of others in books, and learn about motherhood from magazines. We were created to learn from one another; hear and grow through the stories and lives of others; and live in a physical way with the body of Christ in our communities.  We Need Community When we isolate ourselves, it is easy to think we are alone in our struggles, rather than realizing the verse “There is no temptation that has over taken you, except that which is common to man” is true for all of us. It also opens us to comparison to people who are not real. Or we can get so stuck in our head with all we’ve learned, that we lose compassion for real people with real stories! When I was first married, I had just moved to a new city, and finding community was hard. I was very discouraged. My husband challenged me to pray that I would find a friend. I wish I could say I responded gratefully to his wisdom, but instead I yelled, “It doesn’t work that way!!!” But I did pray, and just weeks later, I found someone who has now been a friend nearly 10 years....

Creating Community2022-05-04T23:20:28+00:00

Prayers for Our Children

KATHLEEN NIELSON|GUEST Editor's Note: The following article includes excerpts from Prayers of a Parent (P&R, June 2021), used with permission. Praying for the children of the church is a church-wide job. Congregations often stand up and promise to help parents nurture a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord—and that includes praying for that child. I look back through years of parenting and see the church continually and prayerfully flanking our family, and I thank God for his people all along the way. We believers can help one another in praying for our children. That’s one reason I wrote the volumes of Prayers of a Parent: simply to encourage fellow Christian parents in Bible-based prayers for the various aspects of our children’s lives, in every different stage. I needed that encouragement from others, and still do. We can join our prayers together in a chorus for the generations coming after us. They need our prayers. Shared Words of Prayer Why write down our prayers? I often think of the prophet Hosea’s call to the people of Israel: “Take with you words and return to the Lord” (14:2). It’s easy to pray without giving our full attention. It’s easy for many of us to pray inarticulate prayers that are something like floating clouds of scattered thoughts. Sometimes it’s just a quick, muttered “Thank you” or “Help me,” and God surely hears and understands such prayers. But when we read many of the prayers of Scripture (the psalmists’, for example, or the apostle Paul’s), we learn the beauty of prayers developed in thoughtful, intentional words. Now, we can use Scripture’s prayers to pray; that is one of God’s gracious provisions in his Word. What a gift—perfect words that help and teach us to pray. But the Bible’s prayers also teach us the good pattern of prayer: taking regular time and effort to put the praises and petitions of our hearts into words that we bring into God’s presence, in the name of Jesus our Savior. We can help each other practice this good process, with spoken and written words shaped by his Word. Shared Benefits of Prayer Practicing together this process of articulating prayers, specifically for our children, is good for our children and good for our own souls. Christian parenting, as we all know, involves a lifelong releasing of our children into the hands of our Father in heaven, who made them, knows them, and loves them perfectly. As we offer words of prayer to our Father, our hearts trust him more and more, and our hands loosen their grip to give our children into his perfect providential care. Sharing our prayers is not a quick or casual process. And of course everyone uses words differently; that’s part of the beauty of coming together with diverse voices that blend, instruct, and encourage. The Spirit and the Word bind us together as we pray, because we share faith in the living Lord Jesus who took our sins, died in our place, and rose from the dead, as the Scriptures tell us....

Prayers for Our Children2022-05-04T23:15:46+00:00

Living Congruently With Who God Says We Are

AMY JUNG|GUEST It has been a few months since the bitter, cold day that our sweet rabbit, Cocoa, gave birth to her four babies. I remember it clearly, though, because it had an impact on my life. Since my daughter began keeping rabbits, I’ve been amazed at how rabbit mothers begin frantically pulling their own hair to line the nest for their babies. The first time our Cocoa had babies, she hadn’t done a thing the night before. By morning, there was a beautiful surprise: a soft blanket of fur covering all the babies keeping them warm. After birthing and cleaning, she had pulled her own hair to make a covering so they would live. It was a picture to me of the selflessness mothers and caregivers are capable of. Imagine our surprise when, instead of finding a beautiful fur blanket covering them during a recent birth, we found that our Cocoa had given each of her kits mortal wounds that killed them all! Cocoa was not being the sweet mother we had known her to be. Another life lesson on the farm for my daughter, Ruthie, and for me. Just as Cocoa once gave us a beautiful picture of motherhood and care, this time she gave us a scary picture instead. Sadly, Cocoa felt threatened. At the advice of our vet, we had brought her in from the sub-zero temperatures in hopes that her babies would have a better chance at survival. Our plan backfired, as she was keenly aware of other animals in our house. She felt so threatened, that she believed she needed to get rid of the evidence of babies to keep predators from attacking her. There was no way for us to communicate to her that she was safe and alone in a room where our dog and cats would not harm her. She didn’t know the truth about all that we’d done to protect her and her babies from the bitter cold. She smelled and heard the other animals and was operating out of instincts, unable to see the truth that we so desperately wanted her to know. What a significant illustration this has been for me to ponder! I think that humans, mothers even, do similar things. In our emotions like fear, frustration, and hurt, we can turn on those we love. We may even give them mortal wounds. While these wounds don’t physically kill, they do fail to give life. As Proverbs says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (18:21). We wield our tongues powerfully for either life or death. Like Cocoa, I’ve sacrificed time, energy, and my own desires for those I love. Sometimes, though, when strong emotions surge, I inflict wounds that fail to give life, leaving scarring wounds to the heart and soul of another. Do your loved ones sometimes see another side of you other than the sweet mother, sister, or friend they most often know you to be?...

Living Congruently With Who God Says We Are2022-05-04T23:15:57+00:00

A Father With No Regrets

BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR My husband is a strong man. But, as our five children well know, he’s also a sentimental softie when we reach certain milestones. With each graduation, each moving out, and each wedding, there comes a moment when Jim will cry. Whether it be a speech or a toast or a quiet moment hugging goodbye, their big, strong father will break down in tears. This spring and summer, our youngest child graduated from college, will move to Austin to begin his new job, and marry his childhood sweetheart. It’s the Great Sentimental Milestone Trifecta. We’ll need tissues. Lots of them. Jim’s tears spring from a deep well of love for our children. There are, however, tributaries of regret which flow through his heart. Opportunities missed, unfulfilled plans, whispers of inadequacy—did he do enough? Did he prepare them to go out and live in this world? Indeed, can any earthly father do enough? Among the many word-pictures in scripture given to us to help us understand God, “Father” stands out. The first person of the Godhead isn't only the Father to Christ, his eternal Son, but throughout scripture he calls himself Father to those he draws to himself, his adopted children. Through the prophet Hosea, God speaks these sweetly paternal words to Israel: When Israel was a child, I loved him,     and out of Egypt I called my son. . . . . it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;     I took them up by their arms,      . . . . I led them with cords of kindness,     with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,     and I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:1, 3, 4) A Father With No Regrets Even though no earthly father can live up to the perfections of our heavenly Father, we still recognize in these tender passages the heart that beats in the chest of so many fathers we know and love. The imperfect love of our fathers points us to the perfect love of our heavenly Father, who will never weep for opportunities missed or hold regrets that he didn’t do enough for his beloved children...

A Father With No Regrets2022-05-04T23:16:07+00:00

Investing & Resting: Tiny Investments of Covenant Faithfulness

RACHEL CRADDOCK|CONTRIBUTOR “You sow, and you sow, and you sow, and much later you will reap.” These words of life were spoken over me by an older friend of mine when I was a young mom to four children under five. The physical demands of rocking, holding, shushing, changing, and heavens to Betsy—the mealtime clean-up! There was never enough time to get all the spaghetti sauce off the baseboards nor pick every goldfish cracker up off of the floor. My friend’s words stuck with me; during the exhausting days of new motherhood, the image of sowing seeds coupled with the hope of reaping filled me with joy while I served the Lord in my home. Her words gave me the big, long, biblical picture of discipleship. God could use the seeds I was sowing with every wet wipe, every word of “Jesus Loves Me,” every ABC Bible Verse, and every sticky hand for His glory in the hearts of my children. I was sowing and making investments in the little disciples who filled up my lap. As a pastor’s wife, I have been alongside many different people in ministry: Sunday School students, youth group students, young adults, and women of all ages and stages. Just as in parenting my own children, my tiny gospel investments have been human, exhausting, and imperfect—many times I have not gotten to see the end of the story—but thinking biblically about sowing and the One who does the reaping has given me the freedom to invest and rest as a kingdom laborer. God uses the tiny investments of ordinary laborers not because of who they are, but because He is the Lord of the harvest. Discipleship is all about investing biblically and resting in the promises of a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful to His generational promise to redeem, deliver, and adopt the people He set apart before the fullness of time. In discipleship, whether you are alongside your own children or involved in the life of another Christ-follower, the tiniest gospel investments are perfected in the big, long, biblical picture of God’s covenant promises to an imperfect people. God is the covenant-keeping God. He takes the tiniest, imperfect investments of covenant faithfulness and brings them to completion by His grace and mercy. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Resting in Covenant Promises My sinful heart is prone to wander to unrest, which causes weariness in the sowing. In the flesh I want to fix things, hurry God’s plan with my human helping, complete a task on a discipleship-program-year timeline, and see the end of the story wrapped in a bow and with a cherry on top. Like Abram and Sarai, I want to nudge along the redemption process and give God a little bit of my own help. Unrest is earthly behavior but developing a posture of rest is heavenly. Resting in God’s covenant promises is a spiritual discipline. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17). In this life as a Christ-follower, you will sow, and you will sow, and you will sow, but much later you will reap. Much, much, later...

Investing & Resting: Tiny Investments of Covenant Faithfulness2022-05-04T23:16:19+00:00

Embracing Diversity in the Body of Christ

JESSICA ROAN|GUEST One of my favorite hobbies is hiking. The cool mountain air, the refreshing scent of pine, the sound of rushing water from a mountain stream, the exhilaration of reaching the summit—nothing is quite like it. This year, with so many activities shut down, our family even tried our hands (or feet) at winter hiking and found it to be a surprisingly peaceful way to experience God’s creation. This spring, however, I was introduced to another new hiking experience. After a lifetime of hiking in the Rockies and Yellowstone, I had an opportunity to hike in a new environment, the desert. I’ll admit, I was somewhat biased. After all, while the mountains were equally as beautiful and rugged, they were speckled not with pine trees but tall shade-less cacti. Instead of scurrying squirrels, stealth geckos silently darted in and out from among the rocks, and the only water was the in the bottles we carried. It was in many ways a foreign experience, but my boys still climbed rocks, and the treeless landscape made the vast views spectacular. After a few different desert hikes, while a little sunburnt, I had a new appreciation for my favorite hobby in a new context. Just like doing an activity in a new environment, confronting the issue of diversity in the body of Christ can be an uncomfortable activity. Different buildings (or none at all), music, worship styles, prayers, congregants, school choices, and political leanings are just a few of the challenges that can make us feel uneasy. While diversity is a “hot button” issue in secular society, it is not one we, as believers are at liberty to ignore. Consider the following: Heaven will be filled with different music, languages, customs, etc. The book of Revelation mentions “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…” (7:9) as a result of the command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Heaven will house people with whom we’ve disagreed on secondary matters. In Romans 14, Paul addressed such disagreements: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables…” (14:2). He emphasized the importance of their unity and appealed to their common faith in the Lord, … “we belong to the Lord” (v.8). Heaven will host many ability levels and talents. As 1 Corinthians 12 relates, “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty. . . .God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:20-25)...

Embracing Diversity in the Body of Christ2022-05-04T23:16:28+00:00

Rest for the Spiritually Weary

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR About seven years ago, I cleaned out my parent’s house, my childhood home. It took about a month to declutter, box up various belongings, and then fix, paint, and re-carpet the house to sell. Through the years, I’d heard folks talk about similar circumstances and the stress that accompanies this stage in life, and while I felt sympathy, I felt little empathy. Their exhausted faces connected only as a distant reality. But then at age 35, with three young kids in tow, it was no longer a future prospect. My father passed away, and my mother was incapacitated and needed a better environment for around the clock care. I don’t remember a more vexing time than this. On day one of cleaning out, I was savoring every fork and every dish towel. I wanted to find a home for everything. By day fourteen, I hated all the forks. I cried over letters I found from my father, poured over old pictures of less weighty days, and debated what items were valuable. Eventually, I threw away all the forks. When the “sold” sign was displayed in the front lawn and the last box taken to Goodwill, a friend called and said, “You need a vacation.” I was tired, yes, and a trip out of town seemed appropriate. But the kind of rest that accompanies a vacation wasn’t ultimately the kind of rest I needed. My soul longed for deep, spiritual rest. I spent months questioning the Lord’s plan, neglecting time in His Word, and suppressing frustration toward my simultaneous responsibilities as a daughter and a young mother. In short, I was spiritually weary. Reasons We Become Spiritually Weary Life’s burdens can be overwhelming, but they don’t automatically lead to spiritual weariness. Because of this, it’s important to acknowledge some of the reasons we get to this point. Neglect of Physical Rest - Jesus Himself physically rested on several occasions. He is fully God and fully man, yet without sin. So, when he fell asleep in a boat (Luke 8), and when He left the crowds to be alone to talk with His Father (Luke 5:16), Jesus was not doing anything wrong nor was He displaying weakness. The Creator did what was good and right to do. Jesus rested. Neglecting physical rest can too easily lead to spiritual weariness. We become so work obsessed that our computers stay open until late hours, and the hamster wheel becomes so routine, we begin to idolize our busyness. Physical rest is never a waste of time and neglecting it can leave us feeling spiritually dry...

Rest for the Spiritually Weary2022-05-04T23:16:40+00:00
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