Small Acts of Faithfulness

JESSICA ROAN|GUEST I remember marveling at how small it was, that tiny little coffin. It still wasn’t real. 4 months old. Was he really gone? Was my friend actually mourning her first child? I have never felt so helpless, so unable to do anything to help. As I stood at the cemetery, I heard a familiar voice begin to speak. I couldn’t see him, but I’d recognize that kind voice with a slight lisp anywhere. He spoke of God’s love and hope amidst maybe the worst tragedy a young mother could suffer. As I looked around at my co-workers, most of them unbelievers, my heart breathed a sigh of relief. That familiar voice belonged to a youth pastor I encountered in my teen years. This soft-spoken, kind, humble man was a pastor at a friend’s church when I was in high school. We were never particularly close, but his presence was God’s gift to me (and many others) that day. God was there in this seemingly hopeless situation using this man to bring my friend (and myself) the comfort we both needed. I saw him a few months later, and thanked him for his message on that sad day, but he will never know just how much his presence meant to me in that season of my life. You see, that year was full of tragedy for my family. My father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and passed within a few months; my mother-in-law’s health was failing; and my son’s nine-year-old classmate had suddenly passed away from complications with the flu. My children were young- five and eight-and while we were trying to help them navigate all of this loss, I was unknowingly mourning these young deaths as if they were my own children. Recently, I reflected on this pastor’s seemingly small role in my life...

Small Acts of Faithfulness2022-05-04T23:25:55+00:00

Consider Your Sonship

SUE HARRIS|CONTRIBUTOR A friend of mine married a guy named Jerome who was raised in Switzerland but had lived a few years in Thailand as a missionary. It was always fascinating to talk with him about church, missions, and his cross-cultural experiences. Often, we don’t realize that our normal isn’t normal until someone from the outside is able to gently speak into what we say and do. One day, Jerome and I sat down for a chat after church. I asked him, “Jerome, now that you live in the US, what stands out to you as different in our churches compared to yours in Switzerland or even in Thailand?” He reclined in his chair and patiently responded. I could tell that he was working to be both frank and kind. He was slow to speak when I reminded him that I asked him because I wanted an honest answer. “Well, I have noticed something. It seems that many churches in America I’ve attended sing and preach significantly about our sin, which is appropriate and true: we are sinners and totally depraved, in desperate need of a Savior. But we’re also sons of God, adopted by the Father and there’s great power in that.” Jerome stated something so simple and, I think, so fascinating: For those of us who are in Christ…we are sons of God. There’s great power in that declaration. I spend a lot more time contemplating my depravity than I do my sonship. I spend a lot more time contemplating my sanctification than my sonship. I spend a lot more time contemplating that I am the bride of Christ than my sonship. All of these truths deserve my contemplation, but it seems more difficult for me to consider my sonship...

Consider Your Sonship2022-05-04T23:26:06+00:00

We Agree, Right?

HOLLY MACKLE|CONTRIBUTOR I’ve noticed a curious trend lately: in conversations with acquaintances or strangers I realize my conversation partner presumes I believe the same way they do on a given topic. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, whether the topic is politics, pandemic, or Pandora stations—it just keeps happening. This presumption often feels like some funny math on their part. You’re an educated, thoughtful sort of person who is also walking with God. Therefore, you must believe the way I do. In my former life as a high school Spanish teacher, my students and I would discuss a common conversational quirk known as a tag question. These simplistic, formulaic interrogatives are commonly tacked onto a statement and invite agreement. In Spanish, it’s often ¿no? As in, right? Turns out a similar accompaniment frequents British English and German. Ah, a habit common to human experience. Becoming alert to my own tag question tic has led me to realize how frequently and subtly I presume agreement, and unwittingly cast a pallor of condescension on anyone who may have disagreed with my college girl diatribes on unconditional election or my modern day assertions on the gospel according to Ted Lasso. As believers in Jesus longing for the redemption of every area of life, what alternative does Christ offer for this kind of presumption? The answer may be unexpected: curiosity. When we remember curiosity we invite the correct power orientation between ourselves and God, which puts us in the best possible headspace for interacting with others in a God-honoring way...

We Agree, Right?2022-05-04T23:26:20+00:00

Who’s Entering Your Tent?

ESTHER BAIRD|GUEST This summer I’m teaching the I AM statements of Jesus in a ‘Spiritual Life Tent.’ It’s part of a conference center in the Adirondacks near where we live in the summer. And while there are some Christians in the organization, it is not explicitly a Christian center. In fact, it’s intentionally interfaith and ecumenical. So each week when I walk into my tent, (truly it’s a tent, like the sort you’d set up for a large family picnic with four screened walls to keep out the bugs… but do they ever really keep the bugs out?) I never know who might show up, or what they might believe or not believe, or even harbor anger that they were once associated with the church. The classes are small, perhaps 3-4 people on any given week, which means I can’t hide behind lecture style teaching. If people have different views, I know it. Immediately. The classes are more like conversations where I’ve chosen the topic. And yet, one of the I AM statements is, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” At first, I worried about teaching that specific week. How could I actually tell whoever walked into the tent that Jesus was the only way in an interfaith setting? What if they were Buddhist? What if they’d left the church and were angry at God? What if they thought Christians in America were obnoxious know-it-alls? Thankfully, I’ve seen again and again that Jesus not only is the answer, but he shows us how to explain the answer...

Who’s Entering Your Tent?2022-05-04T23:26:51+00:00

Meet Me In the Margins

KAREN HODGE|CONTRIBUTOR Back in pre-pandemic days, I traveled all the time. Reentry back home after a trip can be a bit daunting. Who did I miss while I was away? What will be waiting for me in the sink?  Is it realistic to try to make up for lost time on my task list? All these unknowns feel overwhelming. As you stand on the edge of in-person life and ministry reentry, how is your heart doing? This summer, it has been a joy to study the lives of several messy women along with women all over the PCA. They have shown us what it looks like to move from the unknown to the known. To be outside the community and be enfolded into community. Let's spend a few more minutes with one of those women, Ruth, and see what she can teach us about God's hesed love. Hesed is God's steadfast, merciful, gracious, kind, good, and loving character toward us. Hesed Love Creates Community Ruth, the gleaner, is hungry and in need. She embodies scarcity, while Boaz embodies abundance. Boaz, reflecting the sacrificial love of God, our great Husbandman, provides an access point. Ruth, the Moabite outsider, enters the fields with courage. Boaz has instructed his men to be intentionally generous and leave some sheaves for her on the margins or edges of the field. Boaz is not only a provider but also a protector as he orders his men not to rebuke her. Ruth enters this grace exchange looking expectantly for provision. She picks up the barley stalk by stalk. In her neediness, she doesn't hoard the harvest for herself; instead, she returns to the city and shares what she has with Naomi. Would it be enough? Ruth 2 tells us this generous provision satisfies these women. COVID Classroom I can hear your spiritual tummy rumbling. You may not have thought this when you looked in the mirror this morning, but you are also a gleaner who is hungry to access the nourishment God’s Word and community provide. Perhaps you have taken inventory of your life as we reenter life and ministry and find this season a bit lacking. We have been disembodied in a year filled with locked buildings and online ministry. Cancel culture, isolation, and missed opportunities look like a few measly morsels of grain. COVID has universally impacted everyone, and yet our experiences are not universally similar. God enrolled the world in a master's level class on His sovereignty. We learned things about Him and ourselves. It was the class you forgot was on your schedule. You have something to share that will satisfy. Reentry is a stewardship moment to reflect and invest what He has entrusted to us during this classroom of waiting on Him. Center of Community We crave community. Isolated Christianity is incomplete. On our "hangry" days, we may desire a community that is fashioned with us at the center. When individualism fuels our concept of community, we will always be left disappointed. True relational nourishment is found in interdependence. It is the place where as we enter, we ask who can I love instead of who loves me. Christ must be the center of covenant community. And after a year of being enrolled in our pandemic classroom, we are keenly aware it takes the whole community of God to understand the whole hesed love of God. Space for Grace Biblical community requires us to meet in the margins. Boaz’s grain offering reveals the access point where gracious provision can be found. One definition of margin is to make space. It is pleasing, such as the lovely white edges of a book. A generous community requires margin and space. Space for family reunions. Space to listen. Space for thanksgivings. Space for lament over loss. Space for new people and opportunities to serve. Space to hear what you learned in your COVID classroom. Space to steward what we have learned. Covenant Community is not found but created. Reentry will require faith to create spaces of grace. Dying to Love Reentry to biblical community will also require death. Ruth had to die to her pride and self-sufficiency. She risked shame and being ostracized. She died to temporal security by sharing with Naomi. Boaz, her kinsman, died to his comfort and convenience...

Meet Me In the Margins2022-05-04T23:18:15+00:00

Recognizing and Resting in God’s Wisdom

SARAH IVILL|CONTRIBUTOR Have you ever asked questions like these?: Why am I suffering when I have sought to please the Lord? Does God really love me? Will God forgive me of this sin? How do I handle my child’s anger? How do I live a life of purity in a sex-crazed culture? What is the purpose of my life? Will the Lord save my parents, my in-laws, my siblings, my best friend? What do we do when such questions spring from our hearts? Perhaps the most common way is to proclaim God’s sovereignty or love. But I want to suggest that we also speak about God’s wisdom. From creation to the consummation God reveals that He is the only wise God. He is the Creator and He is the King.   God’s Wisdom in Creation In six days God spoke light, heaven, earth, seas, plants, trees, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds, and beasts of the earth into existence. He also formed man out of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Then He made woman from one of man’s ribs (Gen. 1-2). Significantly, God’s wisdom in creation is one of the ways God responds to Job’s interpretation of his suffering (see Job 38:4-11). When we cannot understand God’s ways in our lives, the remedy is not found in understanding what God is doing, but in knowing God. He is the all-wise Creator...       

Recognizing and Resting in God’s Wisdom2022-05-04T23:18:26+00:00

Why Go to Bible Study

COURTNEY DOCTOR|CONTRIBUTOR I went to my first Bible study because I was lonely. I was in my early twenties with two small children at home and was desperate to meet other women and make new friends. The offer for free child-care only sweetened the deal and I signed up, eager for a few hours away from children and hungry for adult conversation. I did not go to this study because I had a burning desire to know God or his Word. However, while I did meet new friends and benefitted from a few hours away from the demands of small children, ultimately, I met God. And I have continued to attend Bible studies ever since. If you attend a weekly Bible study of some kind—in your church, neighborhood, or community—I want to ask you why? Like me in my twenties, perhaps you attend Bible study to make friends or enjoy child-care. The reasons that compel us to walk in the door will vary from person to person and from season to season. But the bigger question I want us to consider is, Why do we go to Bible study at all? It’s an important question because the answer shapes our expectations. What should we expect to be the result of going to Bible study? I’d like to propose that, while there are a myriad of good things that happen in and through Bible study—we deepen friendships, grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, invest in the lives of those around us—one of the ultimate things that happens is transformation. If you are a Christian, God is at work in your life transforming you. He is changing you into a woman who is better able to discern his will (Rom. 12:2). He is changing you so that you will be better equipped to join him on his mission to seek and save the lost. He is transforming you so that you will be more consumed with his kingdom than with your own, with his glory than with yours. And he is changing you to be increasingly more like Jesus in every way (Rom. 8:29). One of the most remarkable things about this extra-ordinary transformation is that it happens in very ordinary ways. And “going to Bible study” is one of the ordinary means God uses to do his extraordinary work. But this transformation does not just happen automatically—it requires your participation. Two ways you can actively participate with God in your transformation is by doing your homework and by showing up to discuss it with others. DO THE HOMEWORK A lot of women I talk with think of the homework provided in their Bible study as optional or something they will be better able to prioritize in a different stage of life. But time in God’s Word is vital at every stage of life! And a good Bible study will provide you with the structure and opportunity to spend that time productively. Most Bible study homework will ask you to read a passage of Scripture, answer questions about the passage, and consider how you are to respond to what you’ve read. The actual moments you use to go through these steps can feel so ordinary. Some of you do your study early in the morning while you’re still in your pajamas. Others study over lunch while sitting at your desk. Some of you try to finish it while you’re waiting in the carpool line. Very average moments for the most part. But, as we move through the homework of our study—reading, answering questions, reflecting, and thinking about how we are to respond—God is at work! Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This list is not exhaustive. As you read God’s Word, he, by his Spirit, is instructing you, teaching you, convicting you, encouraging you, rebuking you, feeding you, calling you, reminding you, humbling you, lifting you, comforting you, and loving you...

Why Go to Bible Study2022-05-04T23:18:34+00:00

A Word to Weary Small Group Leaders

AIMEE JOSEPH|GUEST After a long day of drop-offs and pick-ups, meetings and meeting needs, opening our home and our hearts to more people is usually the last thing I naturally want to do. Yet, every time we host a small group or Bible study, I go to bed both tired and satisfied. I love quiet. I love calm. And these are nearly always on backorder in a household of three growing boys in the context of ministry. I feel like I can barely keep enough food in our pantry for our children. As such, thinking for snacks for weekly guests grows my task list, my grocery bill, and my already-overflowing shopping cart. Keeping up with basic cleaning is a challenge for me, so getting the boys’ shared bathroom in suitable condition for strangers feels like a Herculean task. However, once the people are finally gathered in our backyard, at our table, or on our couch, all those concerns flee. Once God has gathered saints and strangers in our home, I am reminded of the priority of persons in the economy of the kingdom. Sentient, living, breathing, burden-bearing souls come to our home each week to be received by other sentient, breathing, burden-bearing souls. We talk about the weather and the latest taco spot, but we also share tidbits of our stories. We multiply each other’s joys and divide each other’s sorrows. For some portion of an evening, we are reminded that there are cares outside the casing of our own hearts. In the Church, small group leaders do a lot of heavy lifting. They faithfully accommodate their homes and hearts to others. They are tempted to grow weary in well-doing, especially when it does not seem like huge things are happening week in and week out. This temptation to have drooping hands and hearts is not new to the church. In fact, the writer of Hebrews continually reminded the Jewish believers to keep going in the seemingly ordinary act of regularly meeting together.  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25)....

A Word to Weary Small Group Leaders2022-05-04T23:18:43+00:00

Bible Study is Better in Community

CHRISTINE GORDON|GUEST If only I had a nickel, (or maybe a Starbucks tall Americano with cream), for every time I’ve heard the following: “I decided to read through the Bible. I made it all the way to the first couple of chapters of Leviticus. Then I stopped.” Yup. I’ve been there. You started with great intentions and a real desire to meet God in his word. Then you came to a verse like this, “And from the peace offering he shall bring an offering made by fire to the LORD consisting of its fat: the entire fat tail cut off close to the backbone, the fat that covers the entrails, all the fat that is on them, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he is to remove with the kidneys” (Leviticus 3:9-10). At that point certain thoughts may have entered your mind. “Hm. Maybe I overestimated myself,” or “I mean, Bible reading is overrated, right?”  The Bible is a complicated book, and parts of it take real commitment to understand. It can be difficult to reach the point where the text is speaking to your heart and connecting you to the God you’re craving. How many genuinely Jesus-loving, God-seeking people have begun some sort of Bible study with great intentions only to stop a few days or weeks later? Then comes the shame and disappointment of quitting, along with the still present ache for a richer understanding of God’s word. Let’s step back for a moment from the world of Bible study and enter another field to help us understand what might help. A study reported by the National Institutes of Health found that 95% of those who started a weight loss program with friends completed the program, compared to a 76% completion rate for those who tackled the program alone.[1] A huge marketing push for many gyms includes a buddy program, or some sort of person-to-person accountability for those wanting to hit their fitness goals. These marketers aren’t just trying to help you make friends; they’ve tapped into something true about our God-imaging humanity: we do better together.  Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God exists in trinity; he lives in community. We, his image bearers, flourish when we do the same....

Bible Study is Better in Community2022-05-04T23:18:53+00:00
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