Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Standing in the Trenches of Life


Today’s Scripture is from Matthew 16:21-28. 

I recently read the true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" The man replied, "I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher." The preacher questioned, "How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?" He whispered back, "I’m in the secret service."  The Secret Service? …I don’t think so.

I read a story this week about a young man who’d just been called up to go to Iraq, because our nation had declared war on Saddam Hussein.  The problem for this young man was – he didn’t want to go.  He explained that he hadn’t joined the army to go to war… he’d joined because of the benefits: the pay, the college tuition, the insurance, etc.  I have got to tell you….there is something’s wrong with that kind of thinking!!  One of the primary functions of the military is to prepare for war.  You’ve got to know that if you sign up! I’m sure its somewhere in the job description. Armies do NOT exist to pass out benefits (those are perks). Armies exists to deal with conflicts. To defend their people. To fight the enemy.  And hopefully to stand against evil. But there are people who actually join up hoping for a free ride. And that kind of mentality undermines the military of any nation.

 

That same kind of mentality can also undermine the church. Too often believers sign up for the benefits. They expect Jesus to “be there” for them… but they don’t expect to “be there” for Him.

 

That’s the issue Jesus is addressing here in Matthew 16. He’s explaining to His disciples that they’re part of His army. He has called them to war, and there’s a decision to be made. Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25.  In other words – it’s not about benefits. It’s about picking up your cross and going into the trenches. It’s about being willing (if necessary) to lose your life for Christ. It’s all about being SERIOUS in our commitment to Jesus.

Jesus has been with His disciples now for at least 2 years. He’s been training them and teaching them, and exposing them to God’s power. And they’ve listened as He’s shared his teachings and His parables. They’ve seen Him heal the deaf, the mute and the lame. They’ve even seen Him raise a little girl from the dead. In addition they’ve observed Him perform powerful miracles. They were out on the sea when Jesus came walking on the water. And again they were on that same sea when He stilled a frightening storm by simply saying “Peace be still.”  And they were there when 5000 men, along with their wives and children, were fed with 5 barley loaves and two small fish. And again when He fed 4000 men and their families in a similar way.  But now, time is getting short.  Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are only weeks away and Jesus has to make it clear to them just how serious their task is.

So the first thing He does here is: He lays the foundation of their allegiance to Him.  In the early part of Matthew 16 He calls them together and asks: “Who do men say that I am?”

And they reply, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Then Jesus asks: “But who do you say that I am” Never a loss for words, Peter steps right up and says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus commends Him for that. But then Jesus explains that He has one final battle to fight and explains to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests & teachers of law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter objects. In Matthew 16:22 Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" This isn’t what Peter signed up for. Jesus HAS TO LIVE… He’s not supposed to die!!!  He’s the long expected King and Messiah. “Not happening on my watch”, Peter says.  Jesus rebukes him.  But then Jesus gives the teaching we find here in our text today: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

(Jesus is saying) Boys, I’ve called you to war.  And in war you face the possibility of death.  That’s what the young soldier was worried about. He knew that once he went to the trenches he would face suffering, danger…and he could even die….And He didn’t want to do that!  And here Jesus is telling His disciples – and us – THAT IS what we’ve signed up for.  We’ve been called to go to war.  And we face the possibility of suffering, danger… and maybe even death.

 

Jesus told us "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12  Jesus said “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22 Paul wrote Timothy and said “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Timothy 3:12  And Peter said to the church of his day: ”Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” I Peter 4:12-13

Paul (one of the greatest Christians who ever lived) once described the things he’d endured: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked,I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known  hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:24-28)  And eventually, Paul was executed for his faith… as were all the other Apostles, except John.

 

Why would he do all that?  Why put up with that suffering and danger, and death?  Paul did all that because he was convinced that Jesus was worth it.

• He was convinced that Jesus WAS the Christ, the Son of the living God Who had come to die for our sins, and rise from the dead to give us hope.

• He was convinced that there was a war to be fought and souls to be won.

• He was convinced that the fate of men and women around him depended on his faithfulness as a soldier of Jesus Christ.

When he was on trial before King Agrippa Paul declared that Jesus had told him: “I am sending you to (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Acts 26:17b-18  Because Paul believed all that, he was convinced that it was worth it to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow (Jesus). To face the dangers and difficulties this world would throw at him.

Now, most of us will never face those kinds of problems. In our country, we’re not likely to be whipped, or stoned, or beaten with rods because of what we believe. More than likely, we’ll be faced with the challenge of realizing that Christianity isn’t a Sunday thing. Our faith calls us to be faithful to Jesus 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week.  Not just on Sundays!
A couple of years ago, a woman had the opportunity to talk to her son, who was deployed to Iraq. He had called from there to say hello and she(being a good Christians woman) asked him if he had to work on Sundays.  He paused for a moment and then said, “Mom - we have to work every day… it’s called a war.”  As Christians we are soldiers of Christ and we are at war with Satan EVERY DAY… not just on Sundays.  Now, we are Soldiers, and we have been called to war.  Given those facts, it’s possible to misunderstand what God expects of us in this conflict. There are Christians who believe that God calls us to fight like the world does. The world fights by getting angry. Have you ever gotten angry? The world fights by getting even. Have you ever wanted to “get even?” The world fights by doing whatever they have to defeat their enemy (end justifies the means)  I have seen Christians use mean and hateful words to get their way.  I have seen Christians who’ve spread rumors gossip to discredit people they disagreed with. I have even seen Christians destroy preachers and churches because “they were in the right” and that church/ preacher had done something that was wrong.

Paul writes to us: The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to  make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)  Later, in II Timothy “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (II Timothy 2:24-26)  We’re not called to deny ourselves and take up our cross so that we can beat up on people.  We’re called to deny ourselves because OUR way of doing things is different than God’s.  OUR way is often based on getting back at someone because they’ve offended OUR way of doing things - OUR sensibilities. They’ve trampled on OUR rights. You’ll often hear that reflected in how people describe those they’re going after. “How dare they do that!”  “They had no RIGHT to do that!”  Let me let you in on a little secret.  When you or I get angry or vengeful towards someone, it’s a sign that we’ve forgotten to deny OURSELVES, and we’ve become tempted to pick up our cross to beat someone else over the head with it.   That’s our way of making war. God’s way of making war is to help us understand: We’re not supposed to be “out to get them”.  We’re not supposed to be out to “destroy them” Because they’re not the enemy… they are our objective! Satan is the enemy, and Satan holds these folks captive to do his will.

As Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 “… our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil….” That doesn’t make sense to the people who DON’T belong to Jesus. If you hurt them, they want to hurt you back… but Jesus says “turn the other cheek” If you hurt them, they want to do something mean to you… but Jesus says “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:28 Our enemy isn’t Al-Quida, or Iran, or the Russians, or the Chinese. It’s not the homosexuals or the atheists.  It’s not the worker down at the plant that curses like a banshee. It’s not the person that says mean things about you behind your back.  It’s not the guy that pulled out in front of you when you were driving down the street and then made some rude gesture. The enemy is Satan!  And if we beat him, we win the battle. And the ONLY way to beat him is for us to take his captives away from him. It’s when we turn the hearts of those around us and bring them to our Jesus to be saved.

This is the challenge for us as soldiers of Christ.  It’s such a big job, it can be overwhelming, and sometimes we almost believe that we’re too small to make much of a difference. I mean, after all, it doesn’t seem like anybody else is doing this and we can feel like we’re all alone doing this.  But it is in the faithfulness of each of us that God wins this battle. How do you feel about going into the trenches today?  Want to join me? 



 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Carey's Amazing Work

This evening, after it cooled off we went across the street to visit with our neighbor, Carey.  He rebuilds and refurbishes old trikes, scooters, and furniture.  He canes chairs too.  His work is amazing.  After we looked at the trike collection, car collection, and other toys he has gathered, he took me inside the house to show me what he had done in there.  I was in awe as I saw the handmade caned picnic basket he made for his wife, Ellen.  He is currently working on a tea cart and is recanting the middle top.  It is gorgeous.  Then he brought out a little table he had redone and another tea table he has recently finished.  The middle section was missing and he caned it.  He also handpainted the scenery on the sides.  I was so very impressed.  I took pictures of all his work...but they do not do justice to it.  When you see it in person you know you have been standing where a master craftsman has stood.  I took a ton more, but I thought I would just whet your appetite with these. 













Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesday Hodge Podge

The Hodgepodge is back, just in time to kiss August goodbye. Thanks for joining in today...be sure to add your link at the end of Joyce's post by clicking here before running off to see what your fellow 'laborers' had to say.  Here we go-

1. As August draws to a close, share what's been your favorite weekend of the entire summer.
Memorial Day Weekend/Week was my favorite.  We were at the beach with the Porch People, had an amazing cookout on Memorial Day, and I got to see Ramona, Dustin, and the boys.  It was a great time.   2. Labor Day is marked in the US of A on Monday, September 1st.  What paying job have you held that you've loved the most? Liked the least?
I love teaching.  I have done this the longest.  I don't make a lot of money doing it, but at the end of the day I feel as if I have done something worthwhile.  Least favorite job was waiting tables at Circle A in Dadeville...loved the food....the pay was horrendous. 
3. Does the new school year start before or after Labor Day where you live? When do you think it should begin? There is much discussion now about older students having later start times to their school day...your thoughts?
Our school year began on August 11th.  We are at the halfway point of the six week grading period.  Progress reports will be given out next week.  I like starting in mid-August because I life getting out before Memorial Day.   One year during a teacher strike my name was in the bottom half of the alphabet and we went to school in mid afternoon.  I hated it.  All my friends were in the top half.  I am a morning person and love morning work.  I could see where college style times would be a good thing though.
4. What's something you've worked at recently that could be deemed a 'labor of love'?
Visitation.  As a pastor I am expected to visit and with a full time job it is hard to find time to visit, especially in the nursing homes.  Going there reminds me of sad times and my mom and dad.  It is depressing to go.  I made a pact with myself this year to be better at visitations.  I am doing pretty well so far.  I have put on my big girl panties and am dealing with it.  5. Which of the following work idioms can you most relate to right now...'A woman's work is never done.', 'All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.', or 'Many hands make light work.' 
I hate having to do housework on Saturday's after working all week.  Saturday is my only "real" day off.  It moves so much quicker if Frank offers a hand.  Two hands are definitely faster than one. 
 6. Crab or lobster or thanks, but no thanks? Favorite way to have your choice prepared?
I love them both, but if you make me choose I'd opt for lobster tails over crab.  Favorite way to have them prepared? Steamed with drawn butter on the side.  Yummmo., 
7. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, 'Three rules of work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Which of the three do you think is most important? Share one of your own 'rules of work'.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity would be mine.  I have always found that when things are the toughest there is always a silver lining waiting there. 
 8.  Insert your own random thought here.
Football season has arrived in the South.  I am not a football fan so this is going to be a long 10+ weeks for me.  I am not looking forward to the bashing that has already begun on social media.  Are you a huge football fan for a local team?  What team do you root for? 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why Are You Here?


My scripture today is from Romans 12:1-8
Let me ask this question, and think about it for a few moments… “Why are you here in this worship service? Why did we get up this early on a Sunday morning, perhaps our only day off from work, and get dressed and come to church?”  Maybe we’re here out of habit. Our family has come to this church on Sunday morning ever since we were children and it’s just always been something we’ve done so since it’s Sunday, we’re here.   We could be here because we feel pressured to be here. Tony Evans said that growing up he had a drug problem…he was drug to church every Sunday morning, drug to church on Sunday night and maybe that’s us. Maybe it’s our parents, or a spouse that has compelled us to come by either force, threat, or guilt. And instead of fighting it every Sunday we’ve decided to just come to church to avoid problems in our family.  Or maybe we’re here for the fellowship. Our friends are here and so this is a chance for us to get to catch up on the week’s events, a chance to greet one another with a hug or a hand shake, a chance to have some company for a change.  Maybe we’re here because we’re hurting. It has been a rough week, and things aren’t going as we think they should at work or at home, so we’ve come hoping to hear a solution to our problems and find some sense of hope and healing.  Or maybe we’re just here to be entertained and we’re hoping we’ll sing an older song that will take us back to yesteryear, or that we’ll hear the preacher tell a funny story that we can tell over a cup of coffee tomorrow at work.  If so, I’m glad you’re all here and I hope we can find what we are looking for. The church should be a part of your regular weekly routine and I do applaud parents who have the courage to make sure their kids are in church on Sunday. And I hope you do find a rich fellowship here because that is one of the things we need as persons, to love and to be loved and I can tell you we have some of the best hugs this side of the Mississippi, and if you are hurting I pray that word is spoken to heal your pain. A word of hope that will inspire you…if that’s you I’m glad you’re here and I hope we can minister to you, but if you are a Christian and that’s your primary reason for being here… then you’re here for the wrong reason..  The primary reason for attending a church service should be to worship God. The psalmist said in Psalms 95:6-7 , “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” Worship is more than just singing a few songs, performing a few rituals and enduring a sermon. We come to church to experience the presence of God, to acknowledge His authority in our lives and to worship Him as our Creator. Yet many people in church have what we call a worship problem. A research study showed that among regular church going adults, one third have said that they have never experienced God’s presence….Never! ½ of Church members claimed that they had not experienced God in a worship service in the past year. And sadly, the surveys found that the younger the adult, the more likely they are to state that God is a distant, impersonal reality for them.  I have to ask….How is it possible that a God who so desperately wants to love and to be loved by His creation seems to be on vacation or in a voluntary seclusion? Is it that God doesn’t want to be noticed? I don’t think so. I think there are a number of reasons why people don’t experience God during a worship service. The first is that we don’t know what worship is. We have no clear understanding of what it means to worship God. So let me ask you all….when you think of worship you may think of a traditional brick church on a Sunday morning, filled with people singing one of the great hymns of the faith?  Maybe you’ve been to a charismatic or Pentecostal church, and you envision a scene with hands raised, eyes closed, people singing praise choruses, or even something more active – hands clapping, feet moving, shouts of "Hallelujah!" and "Amen!" These are all ways to worship, but they are not worship itself.  So what is exactly is worship? Well, the English word worship means to ascribe the highest worth to. So when we worship we are saying , “God you’re number one in my life. You come before anything and anyone else.” That is what is meant when we say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength.” Nothing is more important to you than God. When we worship, we take our focus of everything else and place it solely upon God and I guess the best way to put it is this, Worship is when we celebrate God. We give Him the honor, and the glory, and most importantly we give of ourselves. You see worship is not just a one hour thing, it’s a way of life. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” Our worship on Sunday is a reflection of the worship we do the other 167 hours in the week. So understand that worship is a way of life, and the worship service is the reflection of what we’ve done throughout the week. The second reason why many have a hard time worshipping God is because worship is not the top priority in their life. A young man wrote to his girl and said to her in very elaborate language, “I would climb the highest mountain for you, I would swim the widest river for you, I would crawl across the burning sands of the desert for you.” Then he put a P.S. to the letter: “If it doesnt rain Wednesday night I will be over to see you.” There is a whole lot of worship that is like that today. It will not take very much to keep us away from God, because we don’t consider worship to be an important event in our lives. It’s important but not just at the top of the priority list.  There are people who risk everything to worship God….would we?

God commands us to be in His house to worship Him, that should be good enough reason, but in addition doesn’t God deserve your praise? Just being who He is should be sufficient, but consider what God has done for you. The bible says that while we were yet still in our sins, Christ died for us. Can you imagine that? The almighty God did that just for you.  One of my favorite authors:  Max Lucado,  defined worship this way, “Worship is a voluntary act of gratitude offered by the saved to the Savior, by the healed to the Healer, and by the delivered to the Deliverer. And if you and I can go days without feeling an urge to say “thank you” to the One who saved, healed, and delivered us, then we’d do well to remember what He did.” And when we look back at the cross, and see the Son of God dying for our sins we stand in awe of the love he has for each and every one of us.  God has done so much for us. So is it to much for God to ask for you to spend one hour on Sunday morning, saying Thank you God. We just sang that song by Fanny Crosby, “To God be the Glory, great things he hath done, so loved He the world that he gave us his Son.” Worship is a privilege we have, the chance to say thank you and to give God glory and praise. It is a privilege to worship the Almighty God.  Worship needs to be a priority in our lives, because scripture demands it, God deserves it, but let me give you another reason…because it gives God pleasure. I’ll tell you one of the biggest thrills of my day, was when I was a young mother and would come home in the afternoons, and as soon as the door is opened, my daughter would rush at me screaming, “Mommy you’re home!” and then we would sit down in the rocking chair and snuggle for a little bit….and she would be touching my face and telling me how much she loved me and I’ll tell you no matter how rotten my day had been that makes me smile. Now imagine how God feels when on Sunday morning we gather here to rush at Him and say “We love You God!”   Ok preaching….so how can make your worship experience more worshipful. The first is this, Come prepared to worship. You prepare for many other things. Football players go through a long game day routine to get ready for the big game. You prepare yourself to go on a date, you get fixed up, put on make up and shave. You know that something big is going to happen.What effort do you put into getting ready to come and worship the Lord. Do you get up 15 minutes before the start of church, throw on a shirt that looks like you slept in it, and show up still half asleep? Let me ask you, would we be so lackadaisical with, oh, let’s say, the president? Suppose you were granted a Sunday morning breakfast at the White House? How would you spend Saturday night? Would you get ready? Would you collect your thoughts? Would you think about your questions and requests? Of course you would. Well, should we prepare any less for an encounter with the Holy God?  Let me urge you to come to worship prepared to worship. Pray before you come so you will be ready to pray when you arrive. Sleep before you come so you’ll stay alert when you arrive. Read the Word before you come so your heart will be soft when you worship. Better yet, if you really want to be prepared to worship on Sunday morning, then you need to be praying, and reading, and listening, and worshiping privately every day, Monday through Saturday. And if everyone did that, it would not only transform our worship, it would absolutely transform this church.  Come expecting God to speak and come hungry for God and willing to listen. You see this may come as a shock to you, but the responsibility to worship doesn’t fall on the church or even the pastor, it falls on you. And if you don’t get anything out of a service than it’s not the church’s fault it’s yours.  The church provides an atmosphere of worship, but the ultimate responsibility falls on you. Come with a humble teachable heart that is eager to see God and learn from Him. So often we come to church to nit pick! “How did you like that special music, it was to loud for me. Did you like the sermon, the preacher wasn’t at her best this morning. Did you notice the dust on the pews, when’s the last time they were cleaned.” It’s as if the service is a performance and we’re writing a critique for the Monday morning paper. And if that’s your attitude than you won’t get much from it. But if you come with the attitude, “Oh Lord, search my heart. I fall so short. Teach me Lord, let there be something in this service that will cause me to be more deeply committed to you.” Now if that is your spirit, you are going to be ready to be refined and molded into what God intended you to be.   John Gough once told of being in a church service and hearing a hoarse discordant voice behind him singing, Just as I am.” He  cringed, he said because the man was the worst singer he had ever heard. There was no melody, no tune, nothing. After three stanzas, the organist mercifully played an interlude. As it was being played, Gough said that he felt a hand on his shoulder and the man with the terrible voice asked him, :Could you tell me the first phrase of the next stanza? I think I could get it if I had the first few words.” John Gough said he looked around into the face of the terrible singer, and he saw that the man was blind. He passed onto him the words to the next stanza of Just as I am which went, “Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; Sight, riches, healing of mind, yea all I need in Thee I find, O lamb of God, I come! I come!”John Gough said when the next stanza began, he didn’t hear the discordant notes anymore, he heard a man speaking to God, and God speaking back.  So why did you come here this morning? Was it for the fellowship, was it for a word of hope…those are both good things about our church, but that’s not why we do this. We came to see God and to give Him the glory…and this morning I invite you to come and not only know, but also experience God.   What say you?



 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Love Can Truly Build Bridges

I heard a great story in Sunday School On June 29th and told myself, "you have got to use this next week."  Next week came and went and I did not think of it again...until today when I was looking for a verse we had used earlier in the month from the Sunday School material.  I laid my book on my desk and it came open to the notes I had made about the story. As I read the story I kept hearing the Judd's song, "Love Can Build A Bridge" in my head. The story goes like this: " You see there were two brothers who lived and farmed near each other.  For 40 years, they worked in harmony, borrowing each other's tools and equipment.  One day a misunderstanding occurred between them, and they stopped speaking to each other.  Months went by.  One day a carpenter came to the door of the older brother and asked if there was some project he could do.  The main said he would like to have an eight-foot fence constructed so he could not see his brother's farm across the creek.  The carpenter said he understood and got to work right away.  All day long he measured, sawed, and hammered.  When the older brother went to look at the finished project. he could not believe what he saw.  No fence was there, but there was a bridge spanning the creek.  To his amazement,  his younger brother was coming toward him on the bridge, hand outstretched.  He thanked him for building a bridge after all their hostility.  As they shook hands, they saw the carpenter packing his tools.  They asked him to stay, but he said he had other bridges to build."  Wow!  What a lesson and believe me it hit me right between the eyes.....the topic of the lesson was a tough one....divisions in the church.  Divisions can occur in all walks of life.  When I was younger I was very angry with a friend of mine from high school.  I left Florida when I was 19 and never spoke to her.  We grew up in the same neighborhood.  After completing Beth Moore's Bible Study, Breaking Free, I realized I had to make amends.  My class reunion was coming up so I made plans to go and visit her while I was back in Florida.  I am so glad I did.  God really gave me such a blessing.....and a bridge was built.  I encourage you all today not to burn bridges....but to build them.  Don't let a bad word separate you from those you love.  "I am sorry" is one of the hardest phrases to utter....but "I wish I had....." is one of the most painful things you will ever go through.  God Bless You All today....and if you have a void between you and someone in your life....hire that carpenter....and get that bridge built. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Little Help From My Friends

A few Sundays ago during the Sunday School our teacher shared one of the sweetest stories with us.  I sat there with tears flowing down my face because I know this feeling....on both sides.  The story goes something like this:  "A four-year-old boy's neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.  Seeing the man outside crying, the little boy went into the man's yard, climbed into his lap and just sat there.  When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing.  I just helped him cry."  Even a child - or perhaps I should say, especially a child - can understand the dynamics of suffering and sympathy."  I was at a funeral and felt very ill at ease.  I knew my friend had suffered watching her parent die...and I waited for God to give me some profound words to say to her....and the family.  Nothing came.  Instead I held her in my arms, let her cry, and prayed for her.  It was enough.  Sometimes no words are better that empty ones.  When we are in this situation and we tend to tell people, "I know how you feel."  The person on the receiving end of this statement sometimes feels..."Yeah right!"  I know I did.  I wanted to look the person in the eyes and ask, "Do you?  Do you really?" I pray that you all will watch carefully what you say to people who are grieving.  Sometimes the less said the better! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Christian Survival Guide

A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth
About The Book:  What enables some to survive as Christians when so many others falter? Without resorting to empty answers, clich├ęs, relativism, or smug certainty, A Christian Survival Guide provides an accessible and safe place to deal with issues that can give Christians sleepless nights. By focusing on spiritual practices, discussing solutions to faith struggles, and offering perspectives from multiple Christian traditions, this survival guide moves readers into a thriving relationship with God, even if that means not necessarily finding all the answers.
A Christian Survival Guide doesn’t run away from the big, tough questions of life like:
• Does the Bible have to be “true”?
• Where is God in an evil world?
• Did God sanction genocide?
• Is hell eternal conscious torment?

• Does money keep us from following Jesus?

About The Author: Ed Cyzewski is the author of Coffeehouse Theology and the coauthor of Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus and The Good News of Revelation. He is a freelance writer who has contributed to numerous magazines and book projects. He writes about imperfectly following Jesus at www.edcyzewski.com.
My Thoughts On The Book:  This book is not a heavy hitting, verse by verse study.  It is however an easy to read, sometimes uncomfortable, lifeline for today's Christian who needs some answers.  In his introduction is an encouragement to examine your way of thinking and go from surviving to thriving.  He tells shows us in the introduction that surviving is not something you just do.....surviving takes planning.  He gives us some insight into the marks of a Messy Christian vs a Happy Christian and how both can fail to thrive as a follower of Jesus.  That was eye opening for me!  The book is then divided into two parts.  Part I deals with Christian beliefs and although I did not completely agree with some of his thoughts I could see where Cyzewski was coming from.  Each chapter was short and easy to read which would not bog down someone looking for some answers.  Part II was on Christian Practices and the most startling chapter for me dealt with bad churches happening to good people.  This one touched close to home.  Overall I enjoyed reading the book.  It made me uncomfortable at times.  I gave me some answers.  I would share it with friends I know are struggling for answers.
Disclaimer: This book was given to me by Kregel Publishers Blog Tour Program in exchange for an honest review.  The thoughts are entirely my own.  Thank you for this opportunity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quilts of Love: A Grand Design

About Quilts of Love: Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family histories. A new book releases each month and features contemporary and historical romances as well as women's fiction and the occasional light mystery. You will be drawn into the endearing characters of this series and be touched by their stories.

About the Book: A getaway on a charming island may be just what Alyssa needs---if only she can let go of her past.  When Alyssa Denham, a single career woman, wins a fun getaway for two on Mackinac Island where her grandmother lives, she gives her carefree best friend a call. Together, they tour the old shops and hidden treasures of the quaint island while helping Alyssa's grandmother piece together an heirloom quilt. Their quest gains them entrance into the homes of many longtime residents of the island, parts of the city that are otherwise off limits to tourists.  As the quilt's story takes shape, Alyssa gains amazing insight into her grandmother's life . . . and attracts the attention of the handsome Scott Whitman, an island resident in charge of hotel transportation. Will memories of her past keep Alyssa from letting go? Or will the quest to piece together the heirloom quilt restore Alyssa's fractured heart---and bring healing to her entire family?

Learn more about this book and the series at the Quilts of Love website.


About The Author:  Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. It seemed only natural to progress into writing down those stories and launching a career in publishing. So far, she has sold 14 books, contributed to 2 others, and have been published in a wide variety of magazines and online sites. Sandra Bishop, of MacGregor Literary, is her agent, and she's doing an amazing job partnering with Stockton. More books are on the horizon.  And now for all that other stuff...Amber married the love of her life in July 2007 and lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, their daughter and son, and their Aussie/retriever mix, Roxie.  Stockton firmly believes a good book can take you away from your present reality into a world you've never seen. With a passion for history (and a minor from college), her books take you back to the worlds that once were and give you a slice of life amidst the adventures and faith of her characters.  Some other tidbits: Amber Stockton was once the only living female Miller in her family; she is related to former President Woodrow Wilson through her great-grandfather's cousin; she has traveled to 41 of the 50 U.S. states and collects playing cards from all of her travels; and she once recorded a CD with a 100+ member choir.  She love to hear from her readers. Feel free to begin a discussion below or check out her other sites (www.amberstockton.com; www.facebook.com/authoramberstockton; www.twitter.com/amberstockton) and leave feedback there.


My Thoughts About The Book:  I have loved all the Quilts of Love series, but this one is my absolute favorite.  I have traveled to Mackinac Island, where the story takes place, and understand the draw that Alyssa feels for the island.  This story is one of those that once you begin reading it you feel as if you are one of the characters inside the pages of the story.  The descriptions were so vivid that I actually pulled out my pictures just to make sure she was accurate.  She was spot on.  Stockton is quite a character developer and I cannot wait to read some more of her books.  I could not put the book down and read it in one sitting.  This is a must read even if you have not read any of the other books in the series. 
Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the Litfust Bloggers Program in exchange for an honest review.  The thoughts are entirely my own.  Thank you for this opportunity.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

Down, But Not Out!

Not too long ago, the website Business Insider, published an article entitled, “7 Brutally Honest Rejection Letters.” Included in this article were rejection letters to a woman seeking employment in Disney’s creative department in 1938, one to author Gertrude Stein, and screenwriter Tim Burton. Or how about this rejection from the New Delta Review, a literary magazine based in Baton Rouge: “Thank you for submitting. Unfortunately, the work you sent is quite terrible. Please forgive the form rejection, but it would take too much of my time to tell you exactly how terrible it was. So again, sorry for the form letter.”  We cringe just hearing these letters, don’t we? We can all identify with the pain of rejection, I think. It’s happened in our lives in one way or another, though hopefully not as brutally as the poor folks on the receiving end of these letters! We can’t know what happened to the people who received these rejections. They may have looked at this bad news as just another bump in the road to what they were sure would be a promising career. Or these letters may have stopped their careers before they even really started. In my senior year of college, I decided I wanted to go to grad school to pursue a master’s degree in Shakespeare so I could work for England’s BBC. I applied to Oxford and Trinity College in Dublin. I applied for a summer internship at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and I was rejected by all three. That was it for me, and it sure did make me sad. I did go on to school to get a graduate degree in but it was in English education. I decided if I could not work for the BBC I would teach high school British English.  The road I wanted was not mine…it belonged to someone else.  I took the road God opened for me….Rejection isn’t the end of the road, is it? And as we all know, Tim Burton and Gertrude Stein went on to excel in their chosen fields; the early rejection they both received perhaps a motivation to try even harder to attain their greatest wishes. Rejection doesn’t have to stop us, either. Certainly, rejection wasn’t a deterrent to the Canaanite woman in this morning’s scripture reading. She wanted her ailing daughter to be made well, and she wasn’t going to give up until that very thing happened.
Read Matthew 15:21-28
So let’s take a look at the woman at the center of today’s passage from Matthew. This woman’s story is recorded twice in the gospels; here in Matthew, but also in Mark’s gospel, where she is described as the Syro-Phoenecian woman. In both cases, the intent is to make very clear that this woman is an outsider. She is not a Jew. Mark’s description of the woman as Syro-Phoenician is geographical, placing here in a region beyond the bounds of Jewish territory; an area that we would refer to as Gentile territory. Matthew takes the distinction a bit further by describing her as a Canaanite. In doing this, Matthew is not just placing her outside Jewish territory, but actually setting her against the Jews, as the Canaanites were the people the Jews displaced in order to move into the Promised Land centuries before. Clearly, this woman is not a person Jews would associate with under normal circumstances.
The next thing we learn about this woman is that she has a daughter who is suffering from demon possession. I believe it is safe to assume that like the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, this woman was also desperate for healing. Many of you know the pain of watching your child suffer, even when it’s just from a little stomach virus. You’d do anything to make the aches and pains stop. Parents of children suffering from cancer often say they wish they had gotten cancer instead of their children. We do anything and everything we can when our children are sick to make them comfortable and to help them get better as quickly as possible. And that’s exactly what this Canaanite woman is doing. She has heard about a Jewish healer named Jesus, and she wants to see if maybe he can heal her daughter of this agonizing affliction.
And it just so happens that Jesus is in the region. As Jesus makes his way through Tyre and Sidon, the Canaanite woman sees the perfect opportunity, and she knows she must seize it. She sees Jesus walking by, and so she does what any of us would do when we have a sick child and a renowned healer is in the neighborhood, she cries out to him. What follows is a four-fold rejection. First, Jesus ignores the woman. Undeterred it seems, the woman continued to cry out, for the next rejection was dealt by the disciples. Obviously annoyed by the woman’s noisy nagging, they appeal to Jesus to at least send her away, which prompts the third rejection. This time, Jesus responds neither to the persistent cries of the Canaanite woman, nor to the pleas of the disciples. Instead, he makes a rather general statement indicating that he has no intention of getting involved with this outsider woman and her daughter. “I have been sent only to the lost sheep, the children of Israel.”
But Jesus, it seems, has underestimated this woman. She stops crying out now and instead employs a new tactic; she throws herself at Jesus’ feet. “Lord,” she says, “help me.” She wants her daughter to be healed, and she knows that this man can do it. She has tried every other possibility, and with nothing but failure to show for it, she needs Jesus to help her. But again, she is rejected. This time, I imagine, Jesus must have looked at her with some measure of compassion and understanding as he said to her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Now, before we go on here, I think we need to take a moment to understand why Jesus was rejecting this woman just as persistently as she was pleading with him. Though his words are harsh and seem to indicate that Jesus came only to save the Jewish people, that was not the case. Already in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has raised the daughter of a Roman centurion. Nevertheless, Jesus understood very clearly from his Father that his mission began with the lost of Israel; his task wasn’t simply to be a traveling doctor, healing every sick person he met. So Jesus was going along with his disciples, traveling from one region to another, trying very intently to reach the lost people of Israel and restore them to right relationship with God.
Think of it like this: If you are taking your child to school, the goal is to get your child to school, and that’s what you do first. Unless you have planned in plenty of extra time, you typically don’t go grocery shopping, stop for a walk in the park, or bowl a few frames at the bowling alley. You and your child get in the car, and you drive your child to school where you drop them off before, perhaps, dealing with some of the other tasks for the day like a trip to the store. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to do what needs to be done, but that you have one mission to accomplish before you can tackle the next.
It just so happens that as Jesus is traveling through Tyre and Sidon, he is singularly focused on the people of Israel and helping them become a light to the nations as was always the intention. And so Jesus does not want to take time now to deal with this non-Jewish woman who has thrown herself into his path. It would seem that he has even gotten annoyed with her as he, in his final rejection, refers to her as a dog, which was one way Jews commonly referred to Canaanites. But this woman is desperate, and she is crafty in her desperateness, as she takes Jesus’ words and turns them right around on him. “Yes, Lord,” she says, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their master’s tables.”
I’m not sure I can adequately describe to you what this woman has done in this one simple sentence. It is truly masterful, and not only because she has boldly used Jesus’ own words against him in support of her cause. The woman accepts her identity as a lowly “dog,” an “outsider” in Jewish thought. And yet, at the same time, she has placed herself within the reign of God’s kingdom. She recognizes Jesus as the Master, and she places herself as the dog scrounging crumbs under that Master’s table; lowly, and yet still within the Master’s presence. Even more than that, without being taught, she takes the approach of a mustard seed-sized faith as she says to Jesus, in essence, “I don’t require much, only enough that my daughter be well, and from you, even the leftovers, the crumbs can take care of that.”
Is it really any wonder that Jesus finally relents? Here Jesus has been going around preaching, teaching, and healing among the Israelites, and still God’s people don’t understand. Even his own disciples have had difficulty wrapping their heads around what it means that the Messiah is in their midst. They continue to question, they continue to doubt, they continue to falter in faith; but not this woman. She has probably never heard from Jesus himself, and yet she has heard enough about him to understand. Here is the great physician, the savior of all peoples, the Messiah. She is in his presence, and she knows that he has the power to heal her daughter. So she says what any parent would say, “Help me.”
How many times have we prayed that prayer, and how many times have we felt rejected in the response or lack thereof? Here’s what we need to learn from this Canaanite woman with the very sick daughter. Again and again this woman violates boundaries; boundaries set up because of ethnicity, heritage, religion, gender, and demon possession. This woman refuses to allow even Jesus to let “tradition” become a barrier, blocking her access to the grace of God that she knows is there. The Canaanite woman comes to Jesus with a crystal-clear, unshakable conviction that God’s mercy is enough for her daughter and for herself. That’s what drives her. And, in the face of uncertainty, doubt, and even rejection, it is such “great faith” that should drive us as well. How is your faith?  Are you down?....Hopefully if you are….you are not counted as out.
 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Bridge Tender: A Sunset Beach Novel

The Bridge Tender (A Sunset Beach Novel)


About The Book:  A surprise gift from her late husband will give a young widow the chance to do the hardest thing in the world . . . move on.  On their honeymoon, the new Mr. & Mrs. Ryan Shaw made a pact: No matter the sacrifices along the way, one day they would return to Sunset Beach, North Carolina—this time to buy their own home.  But that dream was not to be. Seven years into a beautiful marriage, Emily is left a widow, heartbroken, and way past caring about anything.  Until a man approaches her, claiming to have something left to her from Ryan. Something secret.  Unsure if she can ever embrace a new life without her husband, but even less sure about continuing to stay where she is, Emily heads to the coast to keep her end of the promise she once made.  Without delay, she becomes immersed in the lives of the locals, including the reclusive bridge tender with an unexpected past. As the community debates over building a new bridge, Emily must decide whether she will build a bridge of her own, one that will take her out of a painful past and into the new life—and new love—that her lost love made possible.


About The Author:  Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. She is the cofounder of She Reads, an online book club focused on spotlighting the best in women's fiction. Marybeth is the author of The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, The Guest Book, and The Wishing Tree. Marybeth and her family live in North Carolina. Visit her website at www.marybethwhalen.com.



My Thoughts On The Book:  Once again I can say that Marybeth Whalen does not disappoint.  Her characters draw you into the story from the very first page.  It is a sweet romance with a few twists and turns to season the story and keep the reader intrigued.  I read this in one sitting.  Once I began the story I did not want to put it down. 




Disclaimer: This book was given to me by Thomas Nelson and their Book Look Bloggers Program in exchange for an honest review.  The thoughts are entirely my own.  Thank you for this opportunity.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Race: Living Life On Track

The Race: Living Life on Track  -     By: Kyle Froman, Billy Mauldin, Darrell Waltrip


About The Book:  “Boogity, boogity, boogity! Let’s go racing!” Winning is in every racer’s blood. They continually push themselves to the edge, physically and emotionally, in pursuit of the checkered flag and a visit to Victory Lane. It is the racer’s way.

We too are racers in the middle of the greatest race known to mankind: life. We want to live in a way that, when we reach our finish line, we can be proud of what we’ve accomplished. We want to be an example for our family and friends. And if we are a follower of Christ, we want to hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant.”

In The Race, Motor Racing Outreach leaders Billy Mauldin and Kyle Froman share the lessons they’ve learned in the pits and among the NASCAR community to help others with their personal mission—preparing for it, receiving it, and then living faithfully on mission.

Throughout, three-time NASCAR champion and Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip offers related stories on what it takes to win the race, giving fans an inside look at his profession and the personal belief in God that keeps him on mission.



About The Author(s): 
Kyle Froman is the MRO Director of Development overseeing a network of forty Associate Chaplains, as well as external donor and relational development.
Billy Mauldin is the President and CEO of Motor Racing Outreach whose sole mission is to introduce the racing community to a personal faith in Christ and to activate church involvement through relationships.  www.go2mro.com
Darrell Waltrip is the winner of eighty-four career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion.  He currently serves as the lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX.  He was recently inducted into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame.  Darrell is the author of several books. 


My Thoughts On The Book:  I think it is funny that I live in the south and am not a NASCAR fan.    I have been to several NASCAR races, I live a short distance from Talladega Motor Speedway, but have never felt the draw of the crowds or the loudness of the cars.  I almost did not ask to review this book because of that.  I am glad I chose to go with my gut feeling and read this outstanding book.  Each chapter has a theme that is NASCAR related and then Waltrip, Mauldin, and Froman share insights into their own walks.  I loved all the stories they shared.  My favorite chapter was called Arriving at My Destination:  Where Does God Want Me to Serve?  It begins with a thought from Darrell Waltrip that says "life is full of stepping stones."  and asks "What is your plan?"  He and Billy Mauldin share life faith stories, scripture, and their callings.  I could not put the book down.  If you are a NASCAR fan this is a wonderful read, but even if you are NOT a NASCAR fan this is one special book about making a difference and doing what you are called to do.  I loved it!


Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Shelton Interactive in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.  Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Happy Birthday Eric!

I am feeling kind of melancholy today.  I have sat here this morning and thought back on forty other birthdays that have rolled around.  Yep...I said it.....this is the fortieth time I have wished my son a Happy Birthday. Today is his big day..  Eric was not born under my heart....but he sure was born in it.  I think I fell in love with him the very first time he reached his hand up to take mine.  I was his....hook, line, and sinker. 
He was and is a very special fellow in my life.  He has an infectious smile, a wonderful sense of humor, he is a Christian, he is quite a man.  I am so proud of him and all he has accomplished in his life.  So today I wanted to let him know how special he is in my eyes.  Eric was born with a club foot.  He has hand many surgeries in his young life....but believe me...nothing ever kept him down.  One Christmas he got three big Tonka trucks and he loved them.  One day he jumped off the school bus, lugged his three trucks back to the school bus (one of the joys of country living), and came into the house smiling.  He had traded his trucks for a necklace another little boy had....for me.  I wanted to strangle and hug him at the same time.  I tried to explain how he had gotten ripped off....and we did eventually make the swap.  The necklace belonged to the other boys mom....and she did not give it away.  Eric fell off his bicycle once.....and hurt himself.  He could move his arm, his fingers, so I thought it was just bruised.  A few days later it was three times it's normal size.........and yes, it was broken.  I felt terrible.  I sat there in the emergency room with him....and he hugged me and told me, "it's ok momma....you didn't know....and it didn't hurt that much."  You have got to love this guy.  I spanked him once for swinging on his grandmother's hanging quilt frame...he had Hot Wheels in his pocket....I busted a blood vessel on my hand.  Needless to say....that was the last spanking he ever got.  He took a really tall girl to the prom once....Eric was six foot....she was taller.....and I asked him if she didn't intimidate him....his reply was, "Nope....she is the coolest girl ever."  The next year he took a girl who was not even 5 foot.  As a child he always found joy in most things outdoors.  He was 100% boy.  I have had my share of frogs and lizards.  He and his cousin set a man's corn field on fire....using magnifying glasses to burn the behinds of ants.  There are hundreds of these stories. 
Then....one day I turned around and a military man had come to take him to boot camp.  As I closed the door on them.....I put my face against the coolness of the door....and cried until there was nothing left to cry.  The Army had taken my heart.  Eric would never live in my house again.  He matured.  He married.  He became a father.  He was still precious.  There are so many memories I could share....forty years worth....but I will save them for another day.  I don't think I have enough blog space.  I wish you could all meet him.  Once you did...you would never be the same....he is something else.  Happy Birthday to you son!  May you have a blessed and awesome day.....and many more just like it.
Always My Son
You became my son, a part of me, and Eric, that will never change,
No matter what you do in life my love for you will still remain.
I did not hold you as a baby and look into your wee face,
 I held you as a small child and knew no one could take your place.

I knew from the beginning, you would grow to be a man,
And anything choices you would make I’d try to understand.
I knew you would leave one day and follow your own heart,
I always prayed that in your life I’d always have a part.

I knew some things you did in life would give me so much pride,
But also realized some things would tear me up inside.
I only want the best for you and want you to succeed,
And want you to find happiness with everything you need.

 My job was just to guide you and give you a helping hand,
You  choose the path you were to take now that you are a man.
Along the road that you will choose, whatever that may be,
Just remember this my precious son that you can count on me.

I know this life's not perfect and we do the best we can,
Just realize I love you and I’ll always understand.
I knew one day you would grow up and you would leave my nest,
I will do what I can for you and let God do the rest.

I am proud to have been your mom for all your childhood years,
 And revisiting them today has brought on some Mom tears.
Just remember in my heart you are a special one,
And I will always proudly tell the world, "this is my beloved son."

Happy Birthday, Eric!