Lessons From My Garden on the Kingdom of God

STEPHANIE FORMENTI|CONTRIBUTOR We planted a garden this summer. We have three raised beds dedicated to some vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, another for herbs like basil and oregano, and one bed specifically for wildflowers. As I have watched seeds turn into flowers, and little sprouts turn into tomatoes, the Lord has taught me about work—my work and His work. Our little garden is my summer classroom for understanding work in the kingdom which led me to three parables in Matthew 13 that integrate yard work with kingdom truths. Both my hands-on time in the garden and the teachings of Jesus highlight that kingdom work involves three important aspects: weeping, waiting, and watching. Weeping: It brings me such joy each morning to walk outside and see how many new flowers have bloomed or if there are any tomatoes to harvest. But no matter how many delights my garden produces, there are always those pesky weeds. Every morning provides new gifts as well as new frustrations. The same is true for life in the kingdom of God. We know that Jesus the King already reigns and is already on the move to make all things new, but we also experience how all things are not yet under His feet. Although the kingdom has come, it is also still to come. It is already and also not yet. So, the work we do in the kingdom is work done smack dab in the middle of that tension. We push against darkness and evil and injustice and ugliness and hatred. But those things also push back against us. Kingdom work occupies that space— the space of tension...

Lessons From My Garden on the Kingdom of God2022-07-28T14:41:16+00:00

What Jesus’ Body Means for Us: Relearning How to Enjoy and Glorify God with Our Bodies

ELIZABETH TURNAGE | CONTRIBUTOR Did Jesus wear diapers? Did Jesus learn to say “Abba”? Did Jesus need to take naps? To all three, if we have a biblical theology of Jesus and the body, we must answer “yes.” Often, we focus on Jesus’ spiritual nature, but we need to reclaim an understanding of Jesus’ body as well. When we pay attention to how Jesus lived in his human body, we better understand how to live in our bodies to enjoy and glorify the Lord. Our Savior Learned and Grew The Bible teaches that Jesus learned and grew. Yes, Jesus was sinless, no doubt, but in his humanity, he had to learn; he had to grow. Luke 2:52 tells us, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (NIV). Jesus didn’t emerge from Mary’s womb potty-trained. Jesus grew from a small baby into an average-sized Hebrew male before he began his earthly ministry. Jesus had to learn how to speak Aramaic and Hebrew, how to read Isaiah, and how to write his alphabet. Just as God designed Jesus to learn and grow, he designed us to learn and grow as well. We can learn new things, like how to play the piano or how to study Scripture. We grow physically, and even when our bodies are fully grown, we can and should continue to increase in “wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man,” by living in our bodies wisely, eating and drinking and exercising and touching and playing to the glory of God.

What Jesus’ Body Means for Us: Relearning How to Enjoy and Glorify God with Our Bodies2022-05-04T00:34:10+00:00

WE: A Ministry for Elders’ Wives

I admit navigating the busyness of my own ministry life felt like its own frazzling challenge. And adding to that the task of getting out the door with an infant-necessity-packed car and my two tiny children to drive forty-five minutes “off island” in south Florida felt like an almost insurmountable challenge. In the beginning, I questioned if it was really necessary that I go to all the trouble. Yet each week, the seat I found waiting for me, and the greeting, “Good morning, Meaghan!” reminded me that I wasn’t alone.    Not Made to do Ministry Alone We all have stories of isolation and even frustration in ministry. Ministry can be hard. We have full plates and limited time. During this now-and-not-yet in the biblical story of redemption, the Fall impacts our own hearts, our homes, and our churches. It makes it hard to connect. This is why the gift of a seat next to Sherry Kendrick was so inviting for me. She saw me and encouraged me. I really didn’t know I needed it, but she did.      Ephesians 4:15-16 encourages us, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."     As a veteran Teaching Elder’s wife, Sherry did what she knew. In love, she sought to strengthen the body of Christ. She knew this took intentionality and sacrifice, and seeing a need, she shared her gifts and graces. She poured into my life the way that Susan Hunt and Barbara Thompson had poured into hers. She offered herself. She drove me in the large church van to Orlando to attend my first PCA Women’s Ministry conference, Grace 360. Her enthusiasm was contagious.      Maybe it wasn’t necessarily flashy, but Sherry went to great lengths to arrange a Bible study in her church fellowship hall complete with wonderful childcare and warm casseroles, and then Sherry personally invited all the young ministry wives in the presbytery to attend! These connections were nourishment for my tender soul. She took me in as I was. She listened, she prayed, she reminded me of the goodness of our God of HESED. She was safe, and always had a favorite book on hand and a warm smile. I can still recount the ministry stories, real life anecdotes, laughs, and crazy shenanigans of those precious mornings.     Sherry gave me eyes to see what ministry looked like further down the road. Then, she introduced me to her friends. Never missing a beat, these friends introduced me to their friends, and before I knew it, I had a community of care and support. We were not made to live life alone. We were not made to do ministry alone....

WE: A Ministry for Elders’ Wives2022-05-04T23:27:32+00:00

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

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

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

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

Three Things Foster Parents Want You To Know

SHEA PATRICK|GUEST My family has been fostering for the last eight years now, and we have adopted two children out of foster care. I will be the first to tell you that I’m not an expert, nor do I have some official badge that allows me to speak on behalf of all foster parents. Every family’s situation and experience are vastly different. However, as I have been in foster parent groups or interacted with other parents who foster, I have heard common themes. I’ve heard similar stories. I’ve heard foster parents say things that the church needs to hear. Three Things Foster Parents Want You to Know We are not “good people.”  This statement is one of the things that I most often hear when people find out that we are foster parents. While it is a very sincere sentiment, it is not correct. In fact, fostering many times reveals more sin in my own heart — just like marriage and the parenting of biological children does. It is a truly sanctifying experience. We are sinners in need of a Savior just like the children that come into our home. We are not THE Savior and not THEIR Savior. Fostering is entering into brokenness, knowing that we are all broken by the effects of the Fall and our own sin. In fact, fostering is choosing to step into someone’s brokenness. Foster and adoption care is counter cultural in that you are choosing something that will break your heart and choosing not to protect yourself. Fostering is pointing these children to the only hope that any of us have in this life — Jesus Christ. So why do we do it? Because we know that Jesus will show up in power in these broken places, even as we seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these children (Matthew 25:40). We get attached (and that is a healthy thing.)...

Three Things Foster Parents Want You To Know2022-05-04T23:17:36+00:00

Encouragement for Pastors’ Wives in the Wake of COVID

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR My husband is a senior pastor, and we’ve served in ministry together for almost twenty-five years. Amidst the numerous joys and challenges of church life through the years, we have not felt before the kind of spiritual and emotional fatigue that has resulted from the effects of the COVID pandemic. Everyone has been burdened in some way by the pandemic, some more so than others, but because of my perspective as a pastor’s wife, I have a tenderness toward the stories I’ve heard from various pastor’s wives during this unique time. Weeds of Discouragement I’ve talked with some who feel defeated after thinking through new and innovative ways to carry on with ministries they’re involved with only to be met with little support. Other pastor’s wives seem to have relented to the seed of bitterness after hearing polarizing views from discontented members who swarmed their opinion through email, phone calls, and texts. And one dear pastor’s wife watched as the effects of the pandemic so permeated the congregation that the doors of the young church plant were closed permanently. It’s easy to surrender to discouragement in light of the challenges in church ministry during the last year, but there are good reasons to push away the frustrated emotions. A bleak attitude can too easily lead to weeds planted in our heart, and these weeds produce buds when watered with our judgmental attitudes toward congregants. And they grow quickly when we blame our burdens on a particular decision or unwelcomed path. Satan loves to see our hearts overgrown with these weeds which cause us to forget that God is working in and through His church...

Encouragement for Pastors’ Wives in the Wake of COVID2022-05-04T23:13:05+00:00

What Do Missions and Child Birth Have in Common?

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. (Galatians 4:19)  Any woman who has given birth to a child knows the pain of childbirth. With my first child, I was obliviously idealistic about what childbirth would be like. Other women might have tried to explain it to me, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience of labor. Giving birth to a child is a complete investment of oneself— body and soul. The pains of childbirth are, of course, a part of the curse. What is true on a physical level about childbirth, is also true on a spiritual level about the labor of love called missions. The gospel worker must endure hardship in the process of watching and participating in the birth of spiritual offspring. The Pains of Missions Missions, like childbirth, is painful because of the curse. People are blind, deaf, and rebellious. The Bible says we are all “dead in our sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) We do not naturally want to know and obey God. Oftentimes, God uses painful experiences in people’s lives to make them aware that they cannot be fruitful on their own. Without God, they are only giving birth to wind. It’s painful to go through, and almost just as painful to watch someone go through that process. We groan, as Paul did, as if in labor, because the work is so agonizing. Sometimes our endeavors remain without fruit, sometimes labor progresses so slowly, we get discouraged. The saddest experiences are the spiritual stillbirths when people’s initial interest suddenly aborts, and we are left empty-handed and grieve the loss. One friend to whom we had been witnessing for years died before accepting Christ; another was on the brink of conversion only to say, “The Gospel is like a fairy tale, it’s too good to be true!” and walked away from the church. We groan in pain at such losses. But we must not forget that there is also great joy and hope in the labor of missions because Jesus has promised us his comforting presence and to do the work of calling and redeeming his own. A Life-Giving Opportunity The pain of childbirth is nothing compared to what good comes through it! What keeps us women going and enduring in childbirth is the thought of holding that precious newborn in our arms when all is over. Similarly, the pain of missional engagement is eclipsed by its ultimate goal: seeing new birth happen. We get front-row seats to watch Christ’s life being formed in others, growing, and bearing fruit to God. Jesus describes regeneration and conversion as a birth account...

What Do Missions and Child Birth Have in Common?2022-05-05T00:05:37+00:00
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