God’s Word, Weeds and Bearing Fruit

grapesBy Sara Eyster

As I have listened to our speakers this semester, each one has remarked on the ways she has seen God speak to her. And in each one, I noticed the speaker had knowledge of scripture in order to recognize it was God who was speaking. As I re-read the book, The Windows of the Soul, I noticed the author, Ken Gire, has extensive knowledge of scripture also. Scripture speaks to us in our everyday circumstances and when that happens, we receive intimate insight from the Lover of our Souls.

You have heard me quote Ravi Zacharias, and I will repeat it again. He said, “If you are in the scripture regularly, God will have a context in which to reach you.” How true. If you are searching for a word from God, look in your Bible. It is in there. He knows what you need to hear.

As you may have guessed, my window of the soul is the Window of Scripture. I have found this to be consistently true from the beginning of my walk with Jesus–my answers are in scripture. Actually, as I ruminated over my life story, I found two instances when scripture uncomfortably hit the mark even before I knew Jesus. I remember the day and circumstance when God spoke to me both times. So I see how very powerful scripture is.

I believe our church holds Scripture in a very high and holy regard, but in our private lives is that often true? In this quote from R.C. Sproul, he is talking about the church, but for our purposes, I want to change the word “church” to “our lives.” I’ll read it that way and you reflect on whether this describes you at all.

“I think the greatest weakness in [our lives] today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible.  Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it – His Word.  He alone has the power to change lives for eternity and that power is focused on the Scriptures.”

Do we believe in the power of God to work in our lives? Do we believe God’s power is invested in the Bible? Do our lives demonstrate that? Are we living like we believe it?

Again, not surprisingly, God speaks to me when I am in the garden.  Especially when I am weeding. You will remember that weeds appeared after Adam and Eve thought they could be like God. And I feel the pain of our fallen world on a hot July day. Yet it serves to direct my thoughts while I weed, as to my own wrong attitudes. Whose kingdom is it anyway? What wonder awaits the gardener in heaven – no weeds!! That’s a reason to worship!

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul declares “we (you and I) are God’s workmanship” – His masterpiece!  Amazing!  Here on planet earth, we believers will be so changed by His power that no one will recognize us! Others will look at us, and we will be so winsome that the neighbors will say, “I want to know a God like that! I want what she has!” Husbands will be won over without a word. Children will learn how to respond to Jesus with love and respect and honor. When God holds us up in the heavenlies, even the angels will gasp at what we have become.

Just what exactly does that kind of change look like?

Galations 5:22 gives us one description – the Fruit of the Spirit. Yes, we are back to that weedy garden.

When Paul says “fruit of the spirit”, he is describing a change brought about by the Spirit of God living in us after we are saved. And the “fruit” is not “fruits.” We don’t have some of these fruits; it’s all one fruit. The change that God’s spirit produces is singular, and it is a matter of our heart.

Below I have defined each Greek word for fruit in the context of the verse. I purposely made most of the definitions very simple.

  • Love is putting the good of another ahead of our own. It is loving first before waiting to be loved. It is respecting first before being respected.
  • Joy is simply gladness of heart because of God’s grace in our lives whether the times are happy or heavy.
  • Peace is untroubled well-being because we are free from the distress of our sins.  God promises us peace in tumult or tranquility.
  • Patience is long-suffering, forbearing even when we have the power to retort or avenge. It is evenness in proceeding to action.
  • Kindness is grace that pervades our whole nature, mellowing what was harsh or austere. It describes our disposition and not necessarily our acts of kindness.  There are other words for acts of kindness.

Here is an interesting one:

  • Goodness enables us to counsel with knowledge, even with rebuke, to bring about good. It is often used with kindness–kindness and goodness. Others may take a rebuke from one with a mellow disposition.
  • Faithfulness is simply being sincere and serving with regularity and dependability.
  • Gentleness is not outward behavior or our natural disposition only. It is an in-wrought grace of the soul expressed primarily toward God. It is that attitude of spirit by which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist. It is a balance born of strength of character, a condition of the mind and heart.
  • Self-control is sober-mindedness. We are able to put limits on our own freedom for the benefit of another. Self-control comes from the Greek root word “thinking” as in being able to control one’s thought or inner attitude of mind as well as the passion of the heart.

I don’t know about you, but this fruit is impossible for me to produce in my own strength.  I might say to you that I am thrilled to have God plant and ripen this fruit in me, but I’ve heard about pruning. Most fruit requires some pruning to produce a better crop. The Bible talks about pruning. Sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it?  A snip here and a snip there. Tidy things up a bit.

And yet, pruning involves sharp clean shears. Pruning involves an intimate knowledge of the plant or tree or vine being pruned. Pruning takes a practiced eye–the knowledge of a master gardener who has the good of the plant at heart.

I have a grape arbor. Bill built it for me in 1999, so it is old enough that the branches from the vines grow all over it now reaching across the top and down the sides. The arbor has 4 metal poles with wire stretched across the top and down two sides.  He also fashioned a heavy wooden bench so we can sit under the vine canopy to rest in the summer with a glass of lemonade. It hovers over the lane to the vegetable patch and has cutting gardens on either side of it.

When I prune each year, I must know what I am doing or there will be no fruit. I take my directions out there every March with my clippers and ladder. And each spring, I find myself resisting lopping off perfectly healthy and strong 8 foot branches.

I steel myself to the task and cut all but 8 branches on each vine (about ¾ of the branches). Four of them I cut back to two buds maybe the length of 4 inches. On the other four, I leave 6-8 buds maybe 2 feet long. Now I have 4 branches, 2 inches long, and 4 branches, 2 feet long,  I worry I might shock the vine and kill it cutting so much off, but that has never happened. Pruning isn’t easy. The branches have woven in and out of the arbor and their tendrils around the wires are holding fast.

This puts me in sober mind of myself. I spread my branches far and wide. I make my plans. I love activity. I love planning, making lists. Sometimes I procrastinate. Other times I rush ahead. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes I judge. Sometimes I complain. Sometimes I talk too much. Sometimes I am critical. Sometimes I plan too much. Not necessarily in that order.

And when God begins to prepare me, to correct me, to teach me, to prune me, I hold onto my plans and the way I am (because in my mind, I’m  pretty sure I am usually correct).  I hold on tighter than ever. My tendrils are tenacious, and I have lots of them. They curve tightly around this habit or that treasured plan or inclination to selfish sin.  “No! not that one, God.  It was growing so well.  It looks so good and feels so strong.”  Besides, all the branches are healthy. They don’t look harmful. They look good, but the master vine dresser knows what I need.

Left to myself, I would grow rampantly, crawling over not only the arbor but the cutting gardens on either side, smothering and shading everything else. I might even invade the trees close by. I would produce no fruit at all since all of my energy would be spent growing the branches. And though the branches might look luxurious and people might admire them, they would become a nuisance and a hindrance–even a stumbling block.

Ladies, I am brought up short every March. Just last week again I was startled at how much pruning is required to produce grapes. But summer comes on and all the new branches are fuller than ever and heavy with grape clusters that we turn into jelly and sparkling grape juice.

It is the same with me. As long as I let the Spirit of the vine dresser do His work, I will produce fruit. It may smart for a while. It may feel uncomfortable, but God has never been wrong in His plan for me. I can endure the pruning when I trust in Him, and I can trust Him when I know His character.

He is not like me. He has always been and forever will be. I can trust a God like that. He loved me before I loved Him. He is the only One who is able to forgive my sin and restore me. He is dependable, and I can trust a God like that. He will never change His mind about me. He knows everything about me, and He still wants me to know Him. I can trust a God like that. I can experience His presence in every circumstance of my life. He has all power and ability. He is in control of everything, and I can trust a God like that.

Take Time to Reflect

Sometimes we simply need to take time out from life and spend a few quiet moments before the Lord, meditating on his Word and remembering His promises. On Tuesday, Carey led us through the following time of reflection. If you were not able to join us, I hope you will take the time to read the following verses, listen to the words of the songs and spend a few quiet moments alone with God.

river-142311_1280Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, And lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Psalm 139: 23-24

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. What is the state of your heart today? Is there anything that is causing anxiety? Can you lay it down and let God have it this morning? [Read and reflect on the following verses.]

Psalm 31:7-8 I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul. You have not handed me over to my enemies but have set me in a safe place.

Psalm 34:17-18 The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalm 37:23-24 The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

[Listen to the words of this song.]  

2.  Point out anything in me that offends you.  Do you have un-confessed sin in your heart this morning? Ask God to reveal it. [Read and reflect on the following verses.]

Psalm 15:1-3 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.

Psalm 19:12-14 How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 32:5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

[Listen to the words of this song.] 

3. And lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Is there something you can do today to move forward on the path of everlasting life? Is God asking something of you that you need to respond to? [Read and reflect on the following verses.]

Psalm 1:1-3 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

Psalm 32:8-9, 11 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”…So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Psalm 90: 14, 16-17 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives…Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory. And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!

[Listen to the words of this song.]  

Seeing God in the Details

On our first spring-like day of the season, it seems appropriate that we had Sunshine share with us. Here’s what she had to say:

photo credit: Darrell Godliman/flicker.com

photo credit: Darrell Godliman/flicker.com

By Sunshine Metschke

When Laura asked if I would contribute my voice on this topic of Windows of the Soul, my brain started spinning with all the ways I personally connect with God.

I delight in architectural design. I have zero capacity to design things, but I marvel at buildings that are both structurally sound and at the same time, eloquently detailed, bringing beauty to the landscape. I admire the individuals who have the talent to design and create such structures.

When I used to have cable, I would watch the History channel and get wrapped up in the stories of how cathedrals were raised over the course of decades . . . sometimes centuries, and I would marvel at the extensive physical labor that was involved and the primitive – yet effective – technology that was used to carve stone and LIFT stone and create these structures that, ultimately, pointed people to their Creator and became a physical sanctuary amidst the challenges of life.

Several years ago I was on the Berkeley campus in California on a beautiful July day. I was not on an official visit, nor did I sign up for a campus tour. I was just a random person wandering around the campus, soaking in the California sun surrounded by the buzz of summer classes and literal tree-hugging protests. I walked through buildings at my leisure, looking at historical pieces and again, marveling at the structures.  One building in particular was breathtaking – the Hearst Memorial Hall of Mining. It had an atrium three stories tall, with multiple domes on the ceiling that were filled with skylights. The detail in this part of the building was incredible – iron railings with a green patina, pendant lights, a fabulous brick design leading up to the skylights, arched doorways.  It was the type of building fit for a gala event with music and dancing and celebration.  Industrial yet elegant. And standing silently, and probably illegally, in this gorgeous building, I connected with the grandeur of God. This memory is still impacting me nearly 7 years later.

I am also drawn in by pieces of art.  I love to walk through this hallway here at Berean and the other galleries around the building and get a glimpse of an artist’s talent and innovation. I am always impressed with how artists will incorporate various media into their pieces to articulate their vision. I respect the vulnerability with which artists reveal themselves to us, and tell us a bit about their stories, their experiences, their hopes, their perspectives. I love how photographers capture simple, sweet and elegant moments of life with their unique vantage points, and also how they document the heart-wrenching and life-changing moments that change the course of our individual and collective histories.

I marvel at science. I haven’t always marveled at this discipline – in fact I’m sure I have cursed it a few times. I got my only F in high school Biology because I just could not wrap my brain around the subject of mitosis. I once pulled a D in college Biology because I protested the dumb topic I was given for my final research project. I was supposed to write an 8-page paper with the answer to why King Henry the Eighth’s urine was pink, but instead I called my professor when it was due to say, “look, here’s the answer.” But, now I value science so much more because I understand the connection it has with God.  Who created the brains that can think science-y things?  Who gave humans the capacities to discover and explore and ask and research?

Probably one of my favorite ways to connect with God is by watching little people develop. I am in awe of the way the human body conceives, carries, and grows a tiny person!  There are so many intricacies that can only be traced back to an intelligent designer, that I am just constantly amazed. I love watching my boys make connections and grow and become their own personalities.  I love watching them develop spatial awareness as they fit shapes into sorters, stack blocks, learn how cars roll, learn how to throw a ball, learn about gravity when they drop food on the floor OVER AND OVER AND OVER.  Sam is almost 2, but at about 14 months, he began to understand simple questions or commands, even though he had no verbal words to communicate.  “Should we go get a snack?” I’d ask and he would shake his head “uh huh” and run to the pantry with the excitement of a puppy about to get a treat. I find great joy in celebrating the intricacies of human development.

Of course it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of our God as reflected in nature. The changing seasons, the details of the life cycle of leaves and flowers and how plants are pollinated and how smart birds are. And how can you encounter the majesty of a snow-capped mountain and not thank the One who put them there? Sidenote: I don’t delight in squirrels and firmly believe God created them purely for His personal enjoyment.

I think it boils down to this: I connect with God through intricacies. The intricacy of architecture. The intricacy of an artist’s painting or sculpture. The intricacies of science – which I now admire. The intricacies of the human body – beginning with conception and evolving throughout our lifetimes. The intricacies of nature. All are glimpses into the character of our amazingly articulate, artistic, detailed and absolutely genius God.

But as I prepared for this morning, I started to ask myself, when did I first begin to recognize these connections to God in my life?  When did I begin to truly see His work in the situations around me?  I realized, for a large part of my life, it was easy for me to see God’s handiwork in the lives of others, but I hadn’t yet recognized His constant presence in my own life.

Sometime in the late 90s, I attended a workshop at my in which the facilitator asked us to create a timeline of our major life events – the good, the bad, the ugly – and challenged us to begin thinking differently about these events. Instead of just random events that marked our lives for better or worse, we began to recognize how God was orchestrating events, people, and places to lead us on a different journey.

One of these “major life events” for me happened in my toddler years. My parents divorced, I think sometime before I was two, and my mom and I lived with my grandparents. This time of my life had always caused questions, confusion, feelings of abandonment, and I made up my own truth about the events that surrounded it.

Throughout the workshop, I began to see this event – what had always been a negative association, wondering where God was in all of this – as a doorway to opportunity.  My birth father’s leaving and relinquishment of parental rights opened the door to a better future.  When I was 4, my mom remarried  to the man I now, and have always, called my father.  And now, looking back through a different filter, I could see this as the beginning of God’s provision: a stable father figure, who was hard-working and provided everything we needed (and many times also what we wanted); a consistent and loving church family which gave me a solid foundation for my faith and an environment in which I could thrive; the opportunity to go to college and choose a career, and much more.

So, it’s been easy for me to articulate the ways in which God has been my provider, because, since I started looking at life through a different filter, I’ve seen His provision time and time again: An unexpected check coming in the mail at just the right time. A wave of warm weather for a mama that’s been stuck inside with two adventurous boys during a frigid winter. A delivery of used boy clothes from a friend. A random “I wuv you, mama” from a little voice in the back seat after a particularly rough morning. Just enough food in the pantry to stretch the grocery budget for the week.

But God is so much more than just a provider!  So let’s put on a different set of glasses for a moment and think through some of the other areas that He reveals Himself to us:

  • I recognize God’s creativity in my 4-year-old who makes up jokes. Like, “What did the chicken say to the other chicken?  Nothing. They’re just chickens!” I also see God’s creativity in my peers who are in the midst of raising little people, but they’re exploring their passions at the sewing machine, by baking bread, by writing food blogs and designing goods to make life work a little smoother. God’s creativity is all around us.
  • I know God’s gentleness, as I constantly reflect on how He has pursued me as His child.
  • I have experienced God’s salvation, not just from a life of eternal misery, but salvation from MYSELF and the misery that I cause.
  • I have leaned into God’s wisdom as the Spirit has prompted me to walk in a certain direction or speak an encouraging word.
  • I’ve seen His trustworthiness time and time again, as I relinquish my desire to control a situation, and allow Him to work out the details.
  • I’ve seen His compassion through a friend that delivered flowers to my door when I returned home from the hospital after having a miscarriage.  She knew I was resting and didn’t want to disturb me, but she left flowers, and honestly, I could feel her big, strong, loving hug just by looking at the cheerful gesture.
  • I have felt His nearness at a time in my life when I felt physically quite alone. One day when I was working in the office, about 2 ½ years into my three-year separation from my husband, I remember being at the end of my rope. It was after lunch and I wasn’t quite sure which of my office mates had returned to their desks yet.  In a desperate and sheepish voice I called out, “Are you all here?” And everyone peeked their heads out of their cubicles and turned their chairs around.  And I confessed, “I don’t think I can hold on any longer.” And I crumbled. And they came rushing to me. And through their tears and hugs and sobs and prayers, I physically felt the nearness of God.  Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I have felt His nearness and I have seen His goodness through those around me.
  • I’ve seen His grace through the leaders on this staff.  10 years ago I would have classified myself as a know-it-all. I had never been an administrative assistant before.  But as an administrative assistant, my ideas were always the best. I always had the right solution to any situation. My way of doing it was always the most efficient. I was kind of a steamroller, and I was honestly pretty destructive. But I experienced God’s grace time and time again as I sat under leaders who loved me, who saw the best in me, who gently called out my sins, and who offered forgiveness. I deserved to be shown the door. But instead, I was made better because of God’s grace through others.
  • I have known God as my Sustainer as I struggled through those early years of marriage in pain and confusion, waiting for the next shoe to drop.  And somehow there was never a shortage of shoes TO BE DROPPED. But, when I had nothing with which to carry on, God continued to sustain me.
  • I see God’s redeeming power as I reflect on my marriage that – for half of the 10 years we’ve been married – was tumultuous, full of pain and confusion; but is now on a path of friendship, intimacy, and reflecting God’s redemptive love.
  • I am thankful for God’s sovereignty, as I have more than once attempted to manipulate a situation to my own desirable outcome. And God’s sovereign intervention created an outcome that was SO MUCH MORE than I could have ever manufactured.

So those are just a few examples from my life in which God has revealed glimpses of His character to me.

When we begin to reflect on the ways that God has revealed Himself in our lives, we begin to train ourselves to look differently at our past and future experiences, using a different filter – the filter of God’s character.

But what about those times when God is really difficult to see?

When the relationship appears like it will never be restored? When a life-altering diagnosis strikes someone you love dearly, and the future looks grim? When you’ve lost your job and there are no prospects on the horizon?  When a child has wandered far away, with no promise to return?

Though we’re not experiencing God’s goodness at the moment, does that mean that He is not good?  Though we don’t see His redemption at the moment, is He not redeeming all things? When the situation is raging out of control, does this mean that God is not in control?

These are the moments that our faith comes to the forefront. The moments we must trust who He says He is. Trust what we know to be true about Him. And if we don’t know Him, then these are the times to get to know Him in life-giving ways. How?  In His Word. Who does He say He is?  My Rock, My Fortress, My Hiding Place, My Redeemer. What does He say He will do?  Protect, Provide, Shelter, Cover, Comfort. And so much more.

So how about you?  How is your vision these days? Is it clouded with confusion, or is your path clearly revealed by the light of God’s truth?  Do you need practice looking at your life through a different filter?

I’d like you to reflect on the areas where you’ve seen God’s character clearly in your life.  What was the situation, and which aspects of God’s character can you now identify as being present? What areas do you need to trust He is working . . . He is providing . . . He is exactly what you need?

In closing, can I pray for you?  For us?

Father, thanks for giving us each unique avenues to connect with You. Would you give us new eyes to see You, as you reveal your character to us?  And in those moments where you are very hard to see, would you give us the faith to trust who You are?  Lord of our hearts, be our vision. Don’t be anything else to us except everything that You are. Amen.

An Adventurous Heart

???????????????????????????????By Katie Kafka

I love a good adventure. It often involves excitement, intrigue, unusual places, sweat and challenges. It is a journey to personal growth. Adventure can happen in community with others, or it can be a solo act. I love that it is an experience nobody can take away from you. Adventures give you an opportunity to accomplish goals. Even better, they can lead towards discovering how God has created you.

I have learned God has created me with a tenacious spirit. From tackling and remembering the adventures in life, He has shown me time and again He is present, active, living and invested in me.

This morning I brought my adventure pack. It is full of gear that is useful for the journey. Of course, we carry all the items with us as we go, but there may be certain points along the trail where one item is particularly helpful.

  • Hat and sunscreen–for protection from the elements
  • Sunglasses–to see clearly and keep glares from blinding you. I’m reminded of Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
  • Map–all of us need direction and knowledge of how to get from point A to point B. A map can help us mentally prepare for the terrain ahead.
  • Trail shoes–provide firm footing and help tackle the demands of the trail. They also leave your mark on the path.

One event that has had a profound impact on my life is the termination of my parents’ marriage when I was 7 years old. From then on, life quickly became an adventure for me. The messiness of divorce seeped into life’s little moments and brought quite a bit of stress to the big moments.

As single parents, both my mom and dad had busy, demanding jobs, and we kids were often left home alone or unattended for prolonged amounts of time. We faced financial struggles. Child support was always an argumentative topic. Often we were asked to show loyalty to one parent or the other because neither agreed on what happened to cause the failure of their marriage.

My parents lived in different states making goodbyes very difficult. Both of my parents eventually remarried and after that, I never felt 100% comfortable and free in my own home. Graduation ceremonies turned into an orchestration of how to keep my parents from bumping into each other, rather than a celebration of accomplishments. My dad did not even participate in my wedding. He was not there to walk me down the aisle. He had reason why this choice was justified, but I seemed to block that out of my memory.

Most days I could handle these burdens with strength and a smile on my face. I have to admit there were times when all I could do was break down. Childhood was such an adventure.

This is an example of when adventure is handed to you. I did not choose to make this journey. In fact, I would probably choose NOT to experience it. Becoming an adult and a parent has brought me some clarity. And somehow, God has given me peace over these circumstances rather than bitterness. He has given me:

  • Renewed vision–a little bit of God vision. I understand my parents are sinners saved by grace. They are not perfect. Parenting is hard regardless of the circumstances.
  • Protection–my dad was awarded full custody of us children. For my dad, church involvement was a priority. He made sure I knew Jesus and helped me cultivate a strong relationship with my Savior.
  • Guidance–I have gone to God’s Word for direction. It has been my road map along the way.
  • Firm footing–As I studied the road map, I have been overwhelmed by God’s love for me. God’s compassionate, unfailing, everlasting love has given me strength to meet the demands of the trail.

I think we all have an adventure of choice. Think of an activity that excites you, rejuvenates you, keeps you grounded, yet drives you forward. My adventure of choice is running. In April 2014, I had the privilege of running in the Boston Marathon. The totality of this experience went well beyond physical gain.

I was inspired by the 2012 Summer Olympics track and field events. I watched a feature on two distance runners, an endearing story of how Mo Farah (Great Britain) and Galen Rupp (United States) trained together. Their story was a mixture of hard work and friendship and watching them compete in the same race motivated me. I wanted to run faster.

So I registered for the 2013 Lincoln Marathon. Training for this event went amazingly well. I felt healthy the entire time. I ran the marathon in 3 hours and 32 minutes which gave me the qualifying time I needed to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon.

After I registered for the 2014 Boston Marathon, things took a turn for the worse. Training became a struggle due to a series of physical setbacks. Two weeks into training I started experiencing pain in my right foot. On top of that, I was drained and sick for a good month, trying to kick a cold that lingered for several weeks. My foot pain became worse and spread to my ankle. Two weeks before the race, I started physical therapy. I could barely run a couple of miles without intense foot pain. I sat in the physical therapy office doubting whether I would even be able to cross the finish line. I found myself questioning my choices. Why am I doing this? What is the big deal? It’s just a race. Still. I had trained for a year and a half for this moment. It would be nice to cross the finish line.

These are valid questions. Why? Why go through all of this? Training for marathons is a little excessive, don’t you think? Let alone, when you’ve acquired an injury from it all. The single answer to all these is simple. I feel the nearness of God when I run.

During those moments of training, I have conversation with Him. It is a time when I can process life, give thanks and identify my need for Him

One of my favorite things about races are the spectators. Complete and total strangers cheering you on, giving encouragement, motivating you through a rough spot. In the Boston Marathon, the entire route, 26.2 miles–start to finish, was filled with cheering spectators. I think this is a taste of heaven and a glimpse of God’s character. He is our biggest fan! He is constantly applauding our efforts. Smiling over us.

The finish line at the Boston Marathon is a memory I will not forget. I was surrounded by thousands of people and yet felt like it was just me and God there. I was overwhelmed on many levels. I was:

  • amazed I made it to the end
  • ecstatic my foot was not a hindrance. It felt strong the whole time.
  • grateful for the prayers of family and friends that were my protection that day
  • overwhelmed by the ups and downs of this year and a half journey
  • shocked that I snagged another qualifying time by 20 seconds
  • blessed to have such an adventure
  • aware of how God was with me the entire time

I would like to close my time with a song that gives me a burst of energy. I hear it and it makes me either want to get up and dance or run faster. It brings joy to my adventure, but most importantly, the words are the cry of my heart.

The Power within Us

huge waveBy Carey Helmink

I am in the process of reading Timothy Keller’s book, King’s Cross,  a study of the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mark as told in his gospel. A few nights ago, I read the story of Jesus calming the storm and have not been able to get it out of my mind. Though this passage is incredibly familiar, let’s try for a moment to actually put ourselves in the sandals of the disciples as we read the story again.

“As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus work up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”   Mark 4:35-41

Listen to Keller’s description of the scene:  “Jesus woke up, and two amazing things happened. The first was his words themselves, a command of utter simplicity. He didn’t brace himself, roll up his sleeves, and raise a wand. There were no incantations. He said: Quiet! Be still! That’s it. To a hurricane, Jesus simply says, Quiet! Be still! – just as you would talk to an unruly child.

The more astonishing thing is that the storm obeyed like a compliant child. . . .Have you ever seen water that is smooth as glass, no waves at all?. . . if you’ve ever gone on an ocean cruise or lived on the shore, you know that even when the winds stop and a storm ends, the waves keep pounding for hours afterward. Yet when Jesus said, Quiet! Be still! Not only did the winds die down but the water instantly went dead calm.”

It has literally blown me out of the water to think about and imagine this scenario – to try to put myself in the disciples’ place – to think about the power that God displayed that day – but to think of it not only in the context of nature but also in the context of my own life.

Keller continues:  “Before Jesus calms the storm, they’re afraid – but after Jesus calms the storm, they’re terrified. Why? Before Jesus was awakened, Mark says, the boat was nearly swamped. . . . The disciples . . . knew the boat was just seconds from being totally filled and they would die. They woke Jesus and said, “Don’t you care if we drown?” This picture goes to our hearts, because everyone who’s ever tried to live a life of faith in this world has felt like this sometimes. Everything is going wrong, you’re sinking, and God seems to be asleep, absent or unaware. If you loved us, the disciples were saying, you wouldn’t let us go through this. . . . Jesus calmed the storm, and then he responded to them. Did he say, I can understand how you felt? No, he asked, “Why are you so afraid?” Can you imagine what the disciples must have been thinking? What do you mean, why are we afraid? We were afraid we were going to drown. We were afraid you didn’t love us, because if you loved us, you wouldn’t let these things happen to us. But Jesus’ question to them has behind it this thought: Your premise is wrong. You should have known better. I do allow people I love to go through storms. You had no reason to panic.”

Why were the disciples so terrified? Because this God was so powerful he could command nature – which also makes him someone they cannot control and that is scary. Obviously the disciples would come to understand that although they could not predict what Jesus might do or what he might allow, they knew he loved them because he laid down his life for them.

I Chronicles 29:11-12 says this:

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

The Old Testament is filled with references to God’s incredible power, but in the New Testament we see examples of not only the power of Jesus, but also of his power demonstrated in the lives of his people. The power that calmed the sea is now living within us as believers.

Psalms 68:35 says:

God is awesome in his sanctuary. The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.

I’m amazed to read through the book of Acts and see how the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in people’s lives. These new believers were never described as “nice” people. Sometimes I think that is the loftiest goal that we have as Christians.  (At my funeral, please don’t let anyone stand up and say that I was “nice.” I’m doubting that my family would say that anyway.)

The believers in the book of Acts were brave and strong and bold. His same power is available to us as believers today. That power is there to help us through our struggles and the storms in life, but it is also available so we can help and encourage others.

What would it look like for us to grasp that concept in even a very small way in our lives? Sisters, we have been not been given a spirit of timidity but one of power and love and self-control. May it be so.

 

The Window of Friendship

DSCN0286They call themselves the Berean Babes and on Tuesday Morning they shared their story. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.

Laura: Two years ago, an Equip Her class leader put five women together at a table and assigned them a table leader. That was how it all started . . .

As they began to get acquainted around that table, they found out these things about each other:

  • Two were retired missionary wives
  • Two were widows
  • One had a husband facing the uncertainty of retirement
  • One was in the process of placing her husband in a memory-loss facility
  • One had a husband with serious health issues who was also at the beginning stages of memory loss
  • Two were dealing with macular degeneration of the eye
  • Five were mothers of adult children with many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren
  • One did not have biological children but has helped raise 4 and continues to have an impact on their lives
  • All are from different church backgrounds: Methodist, Baptist, CMA, Presbyterian, Assembly of God
  • All love Jesus and have been walking with Him for years

Only God knew how much the very souls of these 6 women needed each other . . . and how they would impact each other’s lives. Let’s hear from them and learn how God has revealed His awesome character through the window of Friendship.

Claudine:   I have to admit I didn’t necessarily want to be in a group that first day, and I certainly did not want to be the table leader. To be truthful, I’m not even sure I wanted to be there at all. I guess I was in a sort of spiritual funk. But God . . . My heavenly Father knew what I needed.

Through the friendships of these 5 women, I have seen again and again that God really does know how and who and when to put lives together “for such a time as this” for His glory and our good.

Laura has told you a little about some of the circumstances in our lives. But there is no way to really tell you how we have grown into a supportive, caring, kind, patient, spirited, fun-loving group of very, very diverse gals. And DIVERSE we are. That’s where God’s humor comes in!

God knew that day what I needed and what I didn’t need.

I didn’t need more Bible studies, more prayer, more accountability, more agendas or to-do lists. I didn’t need to try harder and work more. I simply needed some friends who would accept me just as I am–warts and all.

We are all at that place in our lives where there is no comparing or competing or second guessing or judging. We don’t have to be afraid of saying the wrong thing. We aren’t out to fix each other. We are what we are, and it’s not going to change . . . not at our ages. We laugh a lot. Have lots of fun. Some of our times together are spontaneous and some are planned. We are available to each other, but not demanding or smothering. It’s a SAFE place.

That’s what God is like. He’s loving and kind and so patient. He knows our weaknesses and strengths. He accepts us as we are. And He cares. Oh, how he cares. He is always available but never forces His way on us. I see the character of God in so many ways. I see it in my friends.

I am so thankful to Berean and our leadership for providing this connecting point. And, yes, I am out of my spiritual funk!

Anne:  Fellowship with other Christian women is a wonderful gift from God who is the center of it all. In between our Gideon study and our Children of the Day study, our group has enjoyed monthly get-togethers outside of our Tuesday Mornings. Our times together include brunches and food, laughter and tears, wonderful fellowship and the sharing of prayer.

One day I called Kay’s house and said to her husband, “Hi, this is Anne, one of the Babes. How are you and Kay doing today?” I think he was a little surprised, but after talking to Kay and hearing their situation, I was able to send prayers heaven-ward for them.

In November, I became the third widow in our group of 6, and I am enthusiastic about becoming as given to the Lord as Claudine and Pat are. You see, I am freer now to spend time with the Lord in prayer, study, and worship. I have more time to exercise my calling.

In spite of the obstacles many of us are facing, these women are trusting in the Lord and persevering in the faith. They do not complain or grumble. They walk the walk. These women anchor me.DSCN0291

We have fun. We smile a lot. And one thing I’ve noticed in our class is that we are the table our teacher, Kathy Bowman, has to shush most often.

These five women are my Forever Sisters in the Lord. They compel me to grow deeper in my love and service to Christ, my Savior and King.

Nancy:  Ours has been a life with lots of moves—lots of new situations—lots of new people to love and be loved by in return, to share life and pray with, but also to be sharpened, encouraged, and rebuked. It has been no different in our coming to Berean. God has placed me in a group with 5 other women who have already re-enforced the character of God in my life.

There is Claudine, who with her bare-bones honesty has inspired me to be open and to search the scripture to see “whether those things are so.”

There is Pat, who being the practical, observant woman she is, has taught me the graces of being on time and standing tall. And I don’t resent that! Pat is a woman of prayer. I admire her a lot.

There is Lois with whom I have shared many of life’s lessons. Even though we have served on opposite sides of the world, lessons such as adjusting to a new culture and language, developing close relationships without family, and making do in all kinds of circumstances have bonded our relationship. Lois is a woman of courage and determination

Then there is Anne, the life of our group. She is the fun-loving one, always bringing laughter into our midst. She sums up the characteristic of joy to our Berean Babes.

Lastly, there is Kay. Besides being near my size, Kay is a dependable friend. She is very faithful and loyal.

These ladies all love the Lord and display the many different sides of the character of God.

In many other circles, I am the oldest—oldest child, oldest grandchild, oldest of the cousins; but in this group, I am the youngest! As you can see, I have much to learn from these wonderful women.

Kay:  I love these ladies in my small group. For starters, to quote Barbara Johnson, we are all in that age between “estrogen and death.” And what a group to go through this stage of life with. I once read the God doesn’t give us the friends we want. He gives us the friends we need. And believe me, I need this bunch.

C.S. Lewis had this to say about friendship:

“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one!’”

Though we all have varied backgrounds and different personalities, we have found much to relate to with each other. Many of us have gone through some of the same things, so we can sympathize, offer suggestions, pray for and simply listen to each other.

Recently, Ann’s husband and my husband were seriously ill in the hospital at the same time. My husband John recovered and returned to his earthly home, while Ann’s husband Noble went to his heavenly eternal home. To paraphrase Galatians 6:2—True friends carry us, when we can’t carry ourselves.”

Even Jesus knew the importance of having friends. His disciples were more than followers. They were his friends. He ate with them, traveled with them, laughed with them and discussed spiritual matters with them. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus. He knows how much we need our friends and on the cross He proved Himself to be our truest friend of all.

I am so grateful to God for these wonderful friends he has brought into my life.

Lois:  We moved from Indiana to Lincoln in May of 2013. No need to go into all the details that necessitated that move except to say it was a hard decision and a huge move. It meant leaving everything familiar and landing in everything unfamiliar—except for my precious daughter and her family who live here.

I wasn’t able to get involved with a ladies’ bible study at my church, Northpointe Community Church, because they meet in the evening, so my daughter got me hooked up with your study here.

From the start, I felt like I had landed on a soft pillow. I had instant rapport with these ladies. I felt like I didn’t have to explain what I was experiencing with my husband and his dementia issues. They understood. Their support was palpable. I was home. When I tell my kids what I have found in this group of friends, I can almost hear their collective sigh of relief. How, apart from God, could Mom find a group of friends like this in such a short time?

I have also found the encouragement to “finish well.” I’m not washed up yet, but I am on the other end of the life cycle with the desire to finish strong. I have wonderful examples of that in this group and together we can do it!

I am experiencing God’s purpose for friendship in this group of ladies whom I cherish.

Pat:  Sometimes God gives us little “cameo” surprises that unexpectedly bless us when we look back and think, “God did that, didn’t He?” Then there are those rare times when we know immediately, “Wow! God did that!” That’s what I see with our little group. He just sovereignly brought us together, dumped a bucket-full of grace on us and said, “Now you all just enjoy this experience. Relish your relationships with each other and with me.”

How unfathomable are His ways. How wise. He knew just what we needed at this particular time in our lives. Some of us needed friends who understood the loss one feels when we find ourselves as “ONE” when for 50, 60 or even 70 years we had been “TWO.” How do we fit in our new role? Others of us needed friends who understood the pain of watching our husband’s mind wander off into a world where we can’t follow.

God demonstrates His tenderheartedness and comfort through women who will pray for each other when they say they will. These women petition our Heavenly Father so we can still “sing for joy” no matter what our circumstances.

There is a conviction between us that in His sovereign will there is still purpose for our lives—even now, today—because He has a plan for each of us that will bring glory to Him to the end. How gracious of Him to give us new bonding friendships at this time of our lives.

To be together—whether here or at lunch or coffee—is just fun. He has given us the joy of lightheartedness and laughter that has surprised us.

God has chosen to love us through these wonderful friendships and I am so grateful. You just never know what may result from going to a Women’s Bible Study!

Laura:

Please God, Reveal to us through friends something of your heart; something of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes; something about ourselves that needs evaluating—a thought, a feeling, an attitude.

Enlarge our hearts as we learn about the journey of one who becomes a friend . . . her stories, her struggles, her joys, her sorrows, her walk with You.

May some of the LIGHT from our friend’s life spill into the window of our soul, and may we see Your face as we look into hers . . . she is your daughter and image bearer.

Help us to hear Your words that you are speaking through friendship.

Thank You for precious friends and the true gift of friendship.

Amen.

Art: A Window to the Soul

janfaris1As Shereen mentioned last week, we will be having the opportunity this semester to meet some of our women and learn how God speaks to them through a window in their souls. This week we had the privilege of meeting Jan Faris. Here are a few highlights of her interview with Shereen.

Shereen:  When did you begin to notice that artwork brought JOY in your life?

Jan: My love for art began in kindergarten. I would run straight to the big easel with huge white sheets of paper and begin painting. I remember being restricted at times because that’s all I wanted to do. I can remember painting mountains, trees, sky, water and always a bright yellow sun.

In 1st & 2nd grade I was allowed to draw birthday cakes on the blackboard with colored chalk (still one of my favorite mediums).  Later in life I learned that God had blessed my aunts and uncles and some cousins with the same ability.

In high school there were no art classes, but I remember doodling faces of people. I had no college training, but I learned to paint from the “Foster Art Books” and later took lessons from many different artists in Lincoln.

Shereen: When did you begin to understand there was a connection between the love of art and  your relationship with God?

Jan: I feel God led me to a teacher who was a believer and a wonderful portrait artist.  She said, “You have a God-given talent, and I can teach you everything you need to know in one month.”  I had never considered my love of art as being God-given before that.  I stayed in her teaching for six months just because I enjoyed our Christian fellowship and I loved her so much.  I still thank God for her, after 33 years.

After that, I did many portraits and other paintings, some commissioned, until we lost our only son in 1987. Then I had to help on the farm until 2001 when we moved to Lincoln.

Shereen: So, after setting aside your painting and drawing for a while, what spurred that desire again?

Jan: In 2005 I saw a cute stuffed bear representing the armor of God and wondered if I teddy bearcould still draw. I could. God never withholds good things from us. I’ve made copies of this picture for all my grandchildren.

This bear represents the words of Ephesians 6: 13-17:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

cross paintingAnother picture that means a lot to me is this picture of the cross which I made for my son’s tombstone. It is also on my husband’s tombstone, the one he and I will share together someday.

The following verses have been my two most leaned-on and loved verses of scripture. I would like to share them with you.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  Romans 8:28-29  (NIV)

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10  (NIV)

I want to honor and glorify God with every painting I do!  He has been my rock since I was 15 years old (63 years).