Flourishing in Christ

MEAGHAN MAY | GUEST She was simply selling magazines door to door. I never caught her name, but she asked me a question that left an impression. She asked why I would buy a magazine from her, and thinking a visual image may stick, the word “flourishing” fell from my lips. Flourishing in Relationship with Christ In Mark 10 we read the story of a man who by most standards was a success. He ran up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus engages him with a question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Asking the man if he recalls the Commandments, the man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Like this rich young man, we spend a lot of energy trying to succeed on our own. Instead of sending him away in frustration, Jesus invites the young man into deeper fellowship.

Flourishing in Christ2022-05-04T00:30:04+00:00

There’s No Easy Way to Learn Patience

MEGAN HILL|GUEST “Don’t pray for patience,” you’ve probably heard someone say. “God just might take you up on it!” Behind our wry smiles and awkward chuckles is an uncomfortable truth: there is no easy way to learn patience. James also affirms that, for believers, trials are the school of patience. “Count it all joy, my brothers,” he writes, “when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). Under God’s sovereign hand, the testing of our faith is a carefully-chosen curriculum, designed by him to produce steadfastness in our hearts. Although we might endure difficulties hoping our circumstances will change, James reveals that the greatest change happens in us, even while we wait. Various Kinds of Testing The Lord produces this steadfastness through trials of “various kinds,” with each person’s circumstances uniquely intended for her good. A recurring battle with sin is often his means of training us to renounce ungodliness (cf. Titus 2:11–13). Affliction allows us to learn his power made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). Unmet desires may be his way of redirecting our desires toward himself (cf. Ps. 73:25–26)...

There’s No Easy Way to Learn Patience2022-05-04T23:28:02+00:00

Preparing to Meet Jesus

SHARON ROCKWELL|GUEST This summer some young women from my Bible study decided to make the long drive to visit our classmate— a woman who had recently moved out of the county to an assisted living home to be by her daughter. Her health had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer take care of her home or herself. She had been with my small group for many years, and she will be sorely missed when we start up in the fall. We were met with a flood of thankful tears when we arrived. Agnes’ new home was small but decorated with the things she cherished most. Family pictures were hung on the walls, as were a large cross and several plaques with Bible verses that were particularly meaningful to her. On her kitchen table was a large print Bible. I noticed a magnifying glass nearby, along with a pad of paper that was labeled “prayer requests.” After our tour of her new place, Agnes told us the details of her health condition, a recent fall, and the need for her walker now. At lunch, and after she was updated on all our personal news, Agnes asked how she could pray for each of us. She commented that she saw prayer as her only remaining purpose in living. Her body was slowing down, but her prayer life was expanding as she met the people in her new home. Still, she told us change was hard. I first met Agnes (name has been changed) when I randomly sat next to her in a fellowship hall more than ten years ago. She was in her 80’s then and told me this was her fourth time through the Bible series. Clearly, she had trouble seeing the text and hearing our lesson, so I asked her why she wanted to repeat the study again. I will never forget her answer. She said she wanted to be well prepared for when she saw Jesus...

Preparing to Meet Jesus2022-05-04T23:28:54+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

Four Reasons Seminary Wasn’t for Me {And Why Every Woman Should Consider It}

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR Several years ago, I sat at the kitchen table with my husband, and I proceeded to hammer him with a list of questions related to a Bible study I was in. This, my friends, is one of the benefits of being married to a pastor. After exhausting him with my imploring questions, he looked at me and said, “You should consider going to seminary.” I considered this for about six seconds before moving on to my next theological inquiry.   At that point in my life, I had not been in enrolled in an academic class since college. And the last class I remember in college was on Shakespeare. And the last academic paper I wrote was done in a computer lab—do those still exist? And so, six seconds was about all I gave to this far-fetched idea of going to seminary. Ridiculous.  But I couldn’t shake the thought, and so I jumped far out of my comfort zone and decided to audit a class. My plan was to sit in the back row, take a few notes, and just see what it was like. By the end of the semester, I had moved to the front row and took notes so voraciously that the notebooks I have are hardly legible. I was a sponge, absorbing every word, and I was hungry for more. Not long after, I enrolled in seminary and began my journey toward a Master’s in theology. You don’t think seminary is for you? Neither did I. For several reasons: I’m Not A Theologian My idea of seminary was that it was a room full of young men who were either experts in biblical studies or who were well on their way to being connoisseurs. It didn’t take more than a week for this assumption to be shattered. In each class I met men and women from all walks of life, all different stages and ages. I was placed in a group for my first seminary assignment with three other students. The youngest student suggested that we keep our work on a Google doc, and I panicked. For the love of papers, I had never heard of a Google doc. I pulled up my trusted Microsoft Word and scrolled through the headers looking for “Google doc.” Friends, this should do nothing but assuage your fears, especially if you are a “late” starter in higher education. We all come to seminary with different experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, assumptions, and we grow. We grow in our understanding of who Jesus is. We grow through discussions and honest questions. And we leave changed...

Four Reasons Seminary Wasn’t for Me {And Why Every Woman Should Consider It}2022-05-04T23:19:14+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

The Secret Sauce of Gratitude

STEPHANIE FORMENTI|GUEST My family and I lived in Brazil for a little over three years. And while I grew to appreciate many things about Brazil, probably the thing I learned to love the most is the delicious food! I love the tropical fruit, the beans and rice, the meat, and the cheese bread. But the best Brazilian food is my mother-in-law’s cooking, and here is the secret to her food: she starts almost every dish by sauteing fresh garlic and diced onions in quality olive oil. It’s the base for nearly everything she cooks, and this flavor combination makes all of her food really delicious. I think gratitude is the garlic and olive oil in our walk with Jesus. Just as food can still nourish and fill me up, if it doesn’t start with my mother-in-law’s secret sauce, it lacks the deliciousness that garlic, onion, and olive oil bring to a dish. In the same way, gratitude enhances our everyday experience with Jesus by bringing flavor and beauty. We can read our Bibles, spend time in prayer, participate in godly fellowship and partake of the sacraments. Those things do provide spiritual nourishment and are essential to cultivating a love for Jesus and for others, but a posture of gratitude aids us in more vividly tasting and seeing the goodness of God. This action of giving thanks is captured in the Greek word eucharisteo. The root word of eucharisteo is charis or grace. We also see its derivative—chara— which we translate as joy. Displaying gratitude then seems to imply a connection to both grace and joy. Maybe gratitude is a repeated decision to receive grace which then results in joy. I believe this happens in our lives in three specific ways. Gratitude provides perspective. Thanksgiving reframes things for us. Gratitude is a perspective changer. It shakes us up and gives us proper sight in two ways: First, gratitude moves us from a position of ownership to a position of stewardship. It rightly places God as the giver of all things (James 1:17), the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), and the one who gives generously without reproach (James 1:5). This necessitates an acknowledgement that we are simply recipients; to receive a gift is foundationally a posture of humility. We do nothing other than stretch out our hands and accept it. Whatever we have, whether that be material goods, children, financial stability, healthy relationships, athletic prowess, or spiritual insight—we receive all of it as an immeasurably gracious gift from God. He created it all and He owns it all. Whatever we have is a gift from him. Gratitude gives us this perspective. Without it, we spend a lot of time hoarding things and even more time protecting them. We approach life tight-fisted, exhausting our emotional energy and the hours of our day fighting to protect the wealth, relationships, status, achievements, abilities, looks, and power which aren’t even ours to begin with. Secondly, gratitude moves us from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance...

The Secret Sauce of Gratitude2022-05-04T23:17:11+00:00

Delicious Despair

ANN MAREE GOUDZWAARD|CONTRIBUTOR It was date night. My husband and I were enjoying our first outing in over a year. Our favorite restaurant looked a lot more like a family night; kids and babies were everywhere. My eyes kept connecting with the sweet baby boy at the table next to us. He was cooing in his daddy’s arms while his father gently rocked him. He was content despite all the commotion. I’ve never been much of a baby person. I prefer hanging out with teenagers. But ever since my twin grandchildren were born and passed too soon, I’ve found my eyes lingering on chubby cheeks and toothless smiles. Deacon and Hallie’s brief life outside the womb created an emptiness in my arms for something I had but lost. The void is overwhelming. So, instead of growing impatient with the noise of children and a baby’s laughter, I smiled. As we were leaving, I turned to stand and saw the baby boy seated in a Bumbo on his table happily eating his dinner. I smiled at him. He smiled at me. But, in a flash my joy turned into ugly tears because, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a second Bumbo. Seated next to the baby boy was his sister. His twin sister. My eyes went back and forth between them. Was I seeing correctly? Were twins really sitting right in front of me? Torrents of grief washed over me. I couldn’t stand. I looked to my husband to confirm the scene. He saw the shock in my eyes. He wrapped his arm around my heaving shoulders and helped me walk out of the restaurant. I barely made it to the car. In an instant, I found myself back to square one. Denial. It’s typically the first “step”[1] of grieving.  It had only been a little over two weeks since our grandchildren’s death and, in a heartbeat, I was once again questioning, “Did that really happen? Did mourning really crash into our family’s world? Were the sweet little babies we expected to love and cradle ushered into the presence of God instead?” Grieving is not passive. Suffering isn’t something that just happens to you and then you ride a wave of emotions until the circumstances quell. Suffering is like school, and grieving is how we accomplish the coursework. It’s not the kind of education anyone willingly signs up for. But, when devastation enters our lives, we are automatically enrolled into the seminar on suffering. And, just as we would prepare for any class, we must download the syllabus and begin to faithfully complete the assignments...

Delicious Despair2022-05-04T23:17:18+00:00

The Freedom of Union With Christ

My grandparents remember exactly what they were doing when they received news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My parents have similarly sharp memories concerning the assassination of JFK. I still clearly remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw the footage of the Twin Towers collapsing. Our complex and beautiful brains have a way of remembering both the shocking and the deeply significant moments that shape our lives. Likewise, I will never forget the day that the theological concept of union with Christ trickled that long eighteen inches from my head to my heart. I remember the exact table at the coffee shop at which I was sitting. I remember the old, tattered book that God used to cement the concept in my soul. I remember that moment because it colored the way I experienced every moment after it! Having come to Christ from an unchurched background, I threw myself headfirst into the Christian life. My husband and I had been in full-time vocational ministry for many years and were in the early years of parenting two under two. On the surface, things were going well, but my soul hit a wall. I was tired and my faith, once vibrant, felt anemic. I was doing all the same things, but my heart felt simultaneously weary and restless. What was I missing? Sitting at a local coffee shop, I prayed that the Lord would restore unto me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing heart to sustain me (Psalm 51:12). Then God used a little-known book, Bone of His Bone by F.J. Huegel, to open my eyes to the freedom and wonder of union with Christ. What Union with Christ Is Paul describes the mysterious wonder that is union with Christ when writing to the church at Colossae using the phrase, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). In his letter to the Galatian Church, he speaks further on this incredible reality....

The Freedom of Union With Christ2022-05-04T23:35:39+00:00
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