Our Father’s Love

2016-209

Ashley’s family

By Ashley Synowicki

I grew up raised by a single mom. My parents got divorced when I was around the age of 3 or 4. So I’ve basically known life without a strong father figure. The memories I do have of us as a family aren’t happy ones. And, my relationship with God was somewhat similar to my relationship with my earthly father.

I had knowledge and belief about God, but it was very impersonal.

He was up in heaven, I was down on Earth . . . without much connection or interaction. Things have always been awkward between my dad and me.

He was sporadically involved in my life growing up.

Sometimes he came to dance performances or school activities, but sometimes not.

I have memories of him forgetting to pick me up from school, losing his temper and getting violent . . . not good stuff.

Although my relationship with him always left a lot to be desired, as a child, I never felt like I was really missing out. Yes, I wished my dad was different, but overall I didn’t feel like I had a huge lack. I guess I didn’t know anything “more.”

Fast forward a little bit. During my junior year of high school I met a very special boy, and we started dating. Seven years later we were married and moved 5 hours away to Iowa where he attended Chiropractic school for 3 ½ years. It was there I heard the gospel for the first time, accepted Christ, and was baptized. My relationship with God went from a belief and knowledge of him to total surrender and love for Him. That church in Iowa was also the place we had our oldest daughter Ella dedicated.

When we found out our first child was on the way, we were both stunned and then excited!

And then this huge weight of responsibility came upon me.

I began to think about all of the responsibilities of parenthood, especially now that I was saved. I wanted to be the perfect Christian mama. Yet, there were so many opinions on the proper way to do absolutely anything with and for your baby. I felt a lot of pressure from myself and the world in general to do everything correctly. And when we found out we were having a girl, I began feeling intense pressure that I, especially, was her example.  I wanted to be the perfect Christian mom, wife and woman.  Then when Ella was born those feelings got worse. My baby cried in public! She wouldn’t sleep through the night no matter what I tried. So many things made me feel inadequate.

At the same time I was absolutely amazed by her . . . and by my feelings for her. Every single thing she did was a miracle. Every smile, every burp, was perfection. The first time I ever made her laugh I remember I cried like a baby because I felt so much joy.

About a year after Ella was born I became pregnant again and shortly after had a miscarriage. About six months later I became pregnant with our second daughter Hannah. Life with two kiddos was definitely more complicated, but I was so incredibly happy to be their mama. One thing I didn’t really expect about becoming a parent was how much it would influence my relationship with God. For example, He’s really captured my attention as I watch my girls interact with their daddy. There are times when they will be dancing with him in the living room, chasing him around the backyard, sitting on his lap reading a book, or wrestling in the basement—and in those moments I often find myself over-emotional. Partly because it’s awesome to see my girls interact that way with their dad, but also because I have begun to realize all of the things I missed out on. I have a front row seat to all of the things that I deeply desired for myself but I never experienced. And that hurts.

I started talking to God about my feelings and asking Him to heal my heart. I expected Him to just sort of take the pain and sadness away . . . to fix it. But He didn’t do that. Instead He whispered to my heart that the way my husband and I look at our girls is the same way He looks at me . . . even more so.

I began to notice all of the times that God calls Himself Father in the Bible. I thought it was incredible that the God of the universe would call Himself my Father. MY FATHER!

Soon, I would spend time with Him and go to Him in those moments when I was grieving all I’d missed growing up and just allow Him to comfort me. I would go to him (and still do) and sit on His lap, so to speak, and be comforted by my Heavenly Father, who’s the best dad ever.

Also, I came to realize that whatever our understanding of love and grace is, that affects absolutely everything.  The words we use can be incredibly important, whether they are things we say, things we are exposed to, or even just our own personal thoughts. Before, the love God talked about was just on the surface for me.  It was based on the earthly love I’d experienced in my past. He began to teach me about His love–how big and deep and wide it actually is.

And then he opened my eyes and heart to see I’m not only loved by Him, but I’m also accepted. And that changes everything!

To be accepted is so much deeper, and has absolutely no bearing on anything I do.

I realized I was accepted–completely and totally accepted–just as I am, without changing anything. That He’d chosen a lot of the things about me for himself. And as I would be overwhelmed with emotion for my daughters, He constantly reminded me that was, and still is, exactly how He feels towards me.

There are so many intimate things I know about my girls that only I, and God, know. He created each of my girls and planned the unique parts of them. These are the things I cherish the most, the things that make them absolutely extraordinary in my eyes. For example, I could tell you how I love that my oldest has her daddy’s hair even though it’s always a little unruly and out of place, that her eyes are the exact same caramel brown as his, how she has these awesome freckles on her cheeks that I know she got from me and that can only be seen if you’re close enough to hug her. I love knowing that when she’s upset my hugs can somehow help her take a deep breath and begin to calm down.  I could tell you she is a perfectionist and a natural born leader–which means she is her own worst critic and a little bossy but also incredibly confident and friendly. I love that the top of her dresser is always a mess because she has kept every momento from absolutely anyone or anything. I love that she has this really dorky laugh that only comes out when she is laughing super hard; that she loves donuts and Chinese food; is incredibly creative and an amazing artist; that she has a sensitive heart and words really matter to her. I could go on and on about her as well as my other daughters. But, I tell you this to demonstrate a mother’s love–how big and deep and wide and personal it is–and then to tell you God loves each of us even more.

After God demonstrated how big and deep and wide His love for me is, I started to see the world and my own life in a completely new light. I began to realize that I had just been owning, and identifying with, my mistakes.

I had always called myself a sinner, saved by grace. And even though I’d been saved and sanctified, I was still looking at myself and treating myself like I was still a sinner.

I would feel guilty anytime I had a bad thought, made a mistake or lost my temper. I was so sin-conscious all the time. It’s almost like I would go back into  what Bryan [Clark] calls the dark room. The chains were gone, but I hadn’t moved out.

Through me allowing Him to be my Father, He shows me that He never intended this kind of life for me. He brought me to this scripture:

Galatians 2:19-20: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified WITH Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This verse really knocked my socks off. I have already died to the rules. This verse says I was crucified WITH Him . . . which means my old self died WITH Him. He showed me I’m no longer just a sinner saved by grace.

 I’m redeemed,

a daughter of the King,

His beloved child.

My whole identity has changed.

I have come to really understand and finally believe that I am no longer defined by my outward performance. I don’t have to try to be the best mom ever, to look and act a part.

I had been living with should vs. shouldn’t, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, can vs. can’t. I was trying by my own effort to do and be all that I thought I ought to . . . to make others happy.  I used to rely totally on myself to get through the day, and it was incredibly exhausting and frustrating because I could never quite seem to pull it off.

But God doesn’t love and accept me based on performance. He looks at me the way I look at my girls—as special, unique and amazing! He wants me to live from the Tree of Life where there is grace, freedom, love and generosity, no shame or guilt. There is instead celebration of my unique qualities, not conformity. There is no judgment. He’s taken care of that. Now I no longer have to live in the dark room and be focused on my sin . . . that’s not what He wants for me!  That verse says “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  It’s not my efforts that will get me closer to God, connect me with God. He’s inside me . . . can’t get any closer than that! There are times when I find myself heading back to performance, but the Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am, and I don’t end up staying there very long.

On days when life seems to get crazy, or I am extra emotional, or I am just having a rough day for any reason I come to this verse and remind myself of who He is.

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

There are days that don’t seem easy or light. And then some days are exactly that. I’ve come to learn that it’s not the circumstances that determine whether a day is difficult or easy to get through. It is me.

If I’m trying to work up the strength to love this person or have patience in this situation . . . both will inevitably leave me exhausted and frustrated. But if I allow Jesus to love that person THROUGH me, have patience for that situation THROUGH me . . . this means I have a heart willing for whatever He would have for me.

This doesn’t mean life has no more challenges!  In fact, we’ve added another daughter into the mix. The weight of it, though, is dramatically different this time.

There’s something that Laurie has talked about from time to time in MUMS that I have taken and implemented with my girls. Laurie has told us how she used to tell her girls that they are Jesus Girls. I have done this with my three.

Every day before we take my oldest to school, or sometimes on the way there, I tell my girls that they are Jesus Girls.

If you asked any of them what that means they would probably give you a list of characteristics: smart, kind, honest, brave, strong, and beautiful. It really impacts them – to hear that spoken back to them.

It feels, in some strange way, that I am calling them up to be the girls that Christ created them to be. When we talk about the different characteristics I swear I can see them stand a little taller, their smiles get a little bigger.

The funny thing is,  these things aren’t just true about them . . . they’re also true about me. I am smart, kind, honest, brave, strong, and beautiful.

I am those things because He is those things.

It’s not because of how well I did today, how kind I was, how organized. I am his Jesus Girl, you are His Jesus Girl, and He looks at you with love, admiration, and acceptance.

Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Jesus, What Should We Do?

busy3By Carey Helmink

I recently finished reading the book Watch by Rick James. It is a great read–very thought-provoking in a lot of ways. The subtitle of the book is “wide awake faith in a world fast asleep.”

In one of the chapters, James talks about being attentive to the presence of Jesus in our lives. To illustrate his point, he tells the story of being asked to give an evangelistic talk at the University of CA, Irvine. The crowd was fairly antagonistic, and when he started to sense that some people were getting pretty agitated, he tried to wrap things up. He told the audience if they wanted to talk more, they could come and chat with him personally.

Listen to his words as he continues the story:

“That wasn’t a good idea. The . . . students didn’t go anywhere . . . they just circled around me. They were extremely worked up over my mention of the Trinity, a foundational Christian doctrine. . . . Well, agitation turned to anger, and I wondered if it would be just a little bit embarrassing to show up in heaven having been martyred in Venice Beach, California – ‘Well done, tanned and faithful servant.’

 I had no idea what to say until I remembered something important: The resurrected Christ lives in me.

 So I said (not out loud or anything), ‘Jesus, what do you want me to say?’ And then . . . I just knew. I grabbed the young man’s finger that was pointed in my face and I gently and lovingly broke it. I’m joking; I gently held it and said to him, with all the compassion of God: ‘It’s okay, brother, it’s okay, really, it’s okay.’ And everything turned calm . . . and the angry students weren’t angry anymore. And a few at a time, they just quietly walked away. In the truest sense, they had seen a Ghost.

 The gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . and now Jesus gets to live his resurrected life through us. I get his body; he gets mine.

 With this awareness my interior monologue turns to a dialogue: ‘Jesus, what should we do right now?’ This is what was so unhelpful about the idea of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). If you’re thinking about Jesus in the third person, you’ve already missed the point. The critical shift of attention is in going from WWJD to JWSWD (Jesus, What Should We do?) –changing our internal narrative from third person to first, from thoughts about God to a conversation with him.”

 JWSWD – Jesus, What Should We Do?

That is such a great reminder to me. I know that God is always with me, that he walks with me through fear and heartache and struggle, that his thoughts are always turned toward me, that he prays on my behalf –even when I don’t know what to pray for.

But sometimes I forget that the living presence of Christ within me has an agenda. He has plans for my day, has people for me to interact with, people for me to share the gospel with or forgive or encourage and sometimes those plans are not MY plans.

In fact, left to my own devices, those would rarely be my plans.

In Acts 8 we see a beautiful example as Phillip responds to the Spirit’s promptings, even when he had no idea where the Lord was sending him. Once he got into the conversation with the Ethiopian, however, he just “ran with it” until the Spirit sent him to his next assignment. I love this because we don’t have to ask Jesus about every single move we make but we do want to be ready when he asks us to move.

That same Spirit lives and breathes in you and me if we have a relationship with Jesus.

In Romans 13:14, Paul encourages us to “clothe ourselves in the presence of Jesus”. Even though Christ already lives within us we still need the reminder to respond to it with listening ears and hearts that are ready to do what he wants us to do.

“Above and below me,

Before and behind me,

In every eye that sees me,

Christ be all around me.

May God be everywhere I go…”

Equipped to Pray

By: Katie Kafka [Prayer Team leader]

I must admit  I am always very humbled by all aspects of prayer. When I speak about prayer, there is always this voice of self-doubt in the back of my head telling me I am not qualified. Then the Holy Spirit gently reminds me how that voice of self-doubt is not speaking truth. He tells me I am qualified to share where God has me in my prayer journey. Prayer is a journey. It is this walk where your Christian faith merges with your circumstances. We travel across a variety of terrains and yet prayer is that steady constant bringing and directing our focus toward Heaven.

This morning we are going to hear from God’s Word in regard to prayer. We will be looking at James 5. I really want to encourage you to read the whole book of James when you get a chance. If only we could cover it right now. James is a short book, only 5 chapters. As I read through it preparing for today, I was reminded how pertinent it is to our current state of affairs as a society. The book focuses on how to put faith into action and gives many practical ways to live out your faith. In particular, it wrestles with how we live out a genuine Christian faith in the midst of:

  • physical and spiritual trials
  • persecution
  • pride
  • conflict
  • worldly riches (or lack thereof)

I also noticed that the book of James begins and ends with mentioning prayer, leading us to realize that prayer is one example of faith in action. Today we are going to turn our focus to James 5:13-16.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

There are so many insights into prayer in these 3 verses. I would like to speak about them this morning in the context of prayer here at Equip Her. Prayer is something we value. You can count on coming each Tuesday and encountering prayer in some way, whether it is through personal reflection or praying with your small group. This passage sheds some light on how to put prayer into action by addressing three questions: When should we pray? How should we pray? Why should we pray?

In verse 13, there is a series of questions and responses. These highlight three instances of when to pray: in times of struggle, in joyful times, in weak and needy times. These scenarios cover the entire spectrum of human circumstances leaving us with the notion to pray in all things. Prayer is a constant element in the life of a genuine Christian.

If prayer is supposed to be an element of a genuine faith walk, then how do we do it? What is a good way to do it? This passage affirms the prayer model we encourage here at Equip Her. We have this common language where we talk about praying Upward (praising God), Inward (confessing our struggles) and Outward (praying for another). There are many methods and disciplines of prayer. Clearly, it is more important that we pray rather than get nervous over how we pray. I just wanted highlight that this passage is an example in Scripture that demonstrates our heart of prayer here on Tuesday morning. This prayer model is found in several places all over the Bible. When we are praying for a struggle, that is our Inward prayer. When we are joyful and singing praises, that is the Upward prayer. Calling elders to pray over sickness, confessing sins and praying for one another is the example of Outward prayer.

I wanted discuss in more depth the part where it says to “confess sins and pray for one another.” I think it can be a little daunting for people to do this. Most of us don’t want to air out our dirty laundry in front of people right away. It takes trust and relationship before we can get to this point. The word “confess” in vs 16 is used 10 times in the New Testament and it means  what we would normally consider it to mean. You are in a lowly state and you have nowhere else to turn, so you ask a trusted companion to pray with you. This word also means to profess, giving it a slightly more positive undertone. Professing is an open acknowledgement. This gives confession a little bit of a makeover. We can understand it more now as an agreement to change–a way for us to engage in self-awareness and accountability.

Continuing on, this passage encourages us to pray for one another. “One another” implies mutuality, a shared confession. You are praying for me, and I am praying for you.

What might this look like in a prayer group setting? Let’s suppose I ask one of you to hold up a 10 lb. weight for me, high up above your head. The weight represents our burdens in life–our struggles and temptations to sin. For a while you can manage the weight, but then it starts to get heavy. The longer you hold it up, the more difficult it becomes. Then imagine, one of your prayer group partners comes along, takes hold of one side of that weight and helps you hold it up. That would be a big relief, wouldn’t it? This is a picture of what outward prayer can look like in our groups.

Notice the passage says “therefore, confess your sins to one another” pointing us back to what was mentioned in the prior verses. We all have things going on in our lives

  • We all have struggles.
  • We all have reason to sing praises.
  • We all have dealt with the ill effects of our struggles.
  • We all are sinners.

THEREFORE, share these burdens with one another. Tackle them together with prayer.

This leads us to the final thought of why should we pray? Verse 15 tells us that prayer offered in faith brings restoration, healing, and forgiveness. It also mentions in verse 16 that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” When people who are wholly conformed to the will of God pray together, the world changes.

I love how these verses keep it real. Are you encouraged by that? It is a relief to know we don’t have to have it all together. Not only that, but we can come to Christ in prayer this way AND we can come to each other in community as well. We all need space in our lives to work out our salvation in prayer and to come alongside a friend in the process. By praying in a small group, you get the privilege of participating in what God is doing in lives of the women sitting next to you. This allows us to see God work–to testify to His goodness and build authentic community with others. This rhythm of prayer has the power to accomplish much in our lives: restoration, healing, forgiveness, joy.

We are going to end our time with some reflection. Click on the video below. As the music plays, think about where you are in your prayer journey. Do you have a cheerful heart? Take this moment to praise God. Are you in a time of struggle? Take this time to pray and also ask the dear women in your small group to pray for you as well.

Dear Lord, thank you for this time and space today to think through our prayer walk with You. What an amazing gift You have given us . . . this ability to speak with You and connect with You in a profound and meaningful way. I pray that we would embrace this on a daily basis. Thank you also for the gift of praying with the church body. You reminded us in James 5 that big things can happen when a group of Christians fervently pray. May we continually come to You with our joys and burdens. May we also find ways to be transparent through prayer with the women in our small groups.  We love You, Lord. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen

Here is the prayer verse for February for those of you who like to use the verse as wallpaper on your mobile devices:img_4943

Breathe

Are you satisfied with the pace of your life? Does it allow breathing room for your soul?Girl Blowing on a Dandelion

On Tuesday Mornings we arrange for a gift of time to let you settle into the room, relax in your seat, and chat with someone around your table simply because life can be too busy most days. Really, it’s about stepping into a place to receive all that God has for you from His Word.

Then WORSHIP begins.The intent of a worship time is to look together at who God is. We discover what He is like and how He interacts with us. Sometimes worship involves singing together. But worship can also come from hearing how God has been faithful in someone else’s life.

No matter how we approach it, worship should always honor the name of God.

Might I suggest you click on the link to this song, take a deep breath and let it lead you into worship wherever you are today:

Fall Afresh, Kari Jobe

 

 

Fresh Start

There’s something about stepping into a NEW year that always invigorates me. Perhaps it’s a sense of relief after the holiday hustle. Maybe it’s the promise of filling clean pages on a new calendar. Mostly it’s the hope of starting fresh in my personal life.

As a way to keep that freshness going for a few weeks, I like to plant a Paper White flower bulbbulb. That little bit of growth in the middle of winter encourages me to live grateful for new things.

This year I had a few extra bulbs in the package from Walmart so I divided them into two containers. One sat atop a bed of pebbles and shells. Another sat on pebbles and was also nestled in a spongy bed of moss.

It didn’t take long for the mossy container to shoot lanky fronds toward the window.

But the pebbly container showed little sign of growth above the stubby bulb.

I checked the roots. Sure enough, the tall fronds were supported by many healthy roots while the stubby bulb had no roots at all. Time for stubby to get a mossy bed too!

Within a day that stagnant, stubby bulb sent out a little root into its pebbles. The moss had created a warm and welcome place for a Paper White to thrive.

For some of you stepping into Women’s Bible Study is your new thing for the year. And we recognize that starting out can make you feel small and vulnerable . . .  like my little Paper Whites.

It’s our hope that this place will feel warm and familiar and that you’ll put down healthy roots in God’s Word.  We’d love for you to grow with us!

 

Kickoff the Year with Brunch on Tuesday

brunchThe Winter/Spring session of Equip Her Tuesday Mornings starts this coming Tuesday, January 17 24th!. If you haven’t already registered, be sure to do so today [click HERE]. See you on Tuesday!

WINTER/SPRING BIBLE STUDIES

Tuesday Mornings, January 17 – April 11, 9:00AM – 11:30AM

Choose from one of these four electives:

Moms Uplifting Moms (MUMs) // Facilitator: Laurie Harms Just for moms! We offer a place to gather with other mothers of preschoolers to learn to seek God’s best for yourself and your family. You’ll be led through study in God’s Word, group discussion and prayer time. Cost:  $10 (workbook included). Homework: 20 min/day. Like us on Facebook for activity updates.

Selah // Teachers: Stacey Kuszak & Renee Meyer NEW!! Designed for moms with kids in elementary – high school years. This community will explore the question: how might we love, lead and influence our families? Bible study will focus on making the Lord’s Prayer a pattern for living. You and God. Mom-to-Mom. Pause to pursue with purpose! Cost: $10 (workbook included). Homework: 20-30 min/day.

Restored! – A Study in Nehemiah // Teachers: Marlys Burgett & Shereen Schwaninger  Has life left you heartbroken? Do you wonder if you’ll ever experience wholeness? When Nehemiah found himself among the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, he turned to God. His answer was a restoration project. Walk with us through the book of Nehemiah to learn what it means to trust God and others to restore and revive our lives. Cost: $10 (workbook included). Homework: 30-60 min/week.

Register HERE for Tuesday Morning childcare.

Sunday Mornings, January 15 – April 9, 9:00AM – 10:15 AM, D-203

Restored! – A Study in Nehemiah // Teachers: Marlys Burgett & Shereen Schwaninger  Has life left you heartbroken? Do you wonder if you’ll ever experience wholeness? When Nehemiah found himself among the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, he turned to God. His answer was a restoration project. Walk with us through the book of Nehemiah to learn what it means to trust God and others to restore and revive our lives. Cost: $10 (workbook included). Homework: 30-60 min/week.

Wednesday Nights, January 18 – April 12, 6:30PM – 8:00PM

Epic of Eden // Facilitator: Denise Davis How many times have you resolved to really understand the Old Testament? Does your Bible knowledge feel like a jumble of people, action scenes, and commands? This video study featuring Sandra Richter, Ph.D., puts the history of God’s redeeming grace in perspective. Join us each week and learn how Old Testament understanding leads to fresh depths of New Testament faith for your everyday life. Cost: $18 if registered by January 8th, $25 after that date (video guide included). Homework: 5 lessons/week, 30+ min/lesson.

Register HERE for Wednesday Night childcare.

Questions? Contact Shereen at lbcequipher@gmail.com.

 

Join us for Classes in 2017

ehcollageWe hope you join us this semester for our Equip Her Life women’s bible studies. To register for any of the classes listed below, click HERE.

WINTER/SPRING BIBLE STUDIES

Tuesday Mornings, January 17 – April 11, 9:00AM – 11:30AM

Choose from one of these four electives:

Moms Uplifting Moms (MUMs) // Facilitator: Laurie Harms Just for moms! We offer a place to gather with other mothers of preschoolers to learn to seek God’s best for yourself and your family. You’ll be led through study in God’s Word, group discussion and prayer time. Cost:  $10 (workbook included). Homework: 20 min/day. Like us on Facebook for activity updates.

Selah // Teachers: Stacey Kuszak & Renee Meyer NEW!! Designed for moms with kids in elementary – high school years. This community will explore the question: how might we love, lead and influence our families? Bible study will focus on making the Lord’s Prayer a pattern for living. You and God. Mom-to-Mom. Pause to pursue with purpose! Cost: $10 (workbook included). Homework: 20-30 min/day.

Restored! – A Study in Nehemiah // Teachers: Marlys Burgett & Shereen Schwaninger  Has life left you heartbroken? Do you wonder if you’ll ever experience wholeness? When Nehemiah found himself among the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, he turned to God. His answer was a restoration project. Walk with us through the book of Nehemiah to learn what it means to trust God and others to restore and revive our lives. Cost: $10 (workbook included). Homework: 30-60 min/week.

Register HERE for Tuesday Morning childcare.

Sunday Mornings, January 15 – April 9, 9:00AM – 10:15 AM, D-203

Restored! – A Study in Nehemiah // Teachers: Marlys Burgett & Shereen Schwaninger  Has life left you heartbroken? Do you wonder if you’ll ever experience wholeness? When Nehemiah found himself among the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, he turned to God. His answer was a restoration project. Walk with us through the book of Nehemiah to learn what it means to trust God and others to restore and revive our lives. Cost: $10 (workbook included). Homework: 30-60 min/week.

Wednesday Nights, January 18 – April 12, 6:30PM – 8:00PM

Epic of Eden // Facilitator: Denise Davis How many times have you resolved to really understand the Old Testament? Does your Bible knowledge feel like a jumble of people, action scenes, and commands? This video study featuring Sandra Richter, Ph.D., puts the history of God’s redeeming grace in perspective. Join us each week and learn how Old Testament understanding leads to fresh depths of New Testament faith for your everyday life. Cost: $18 if registered by January 8th, $25 after that date (video guide included). Homework: 5 lessons/week, 30+ min/lesson.

Register HERE for Wednesday Night childcare.

Questions? Contact Shereen at lbcequipher@gmail.com.

Simeon’s Song

V0034650 Simeon holds the Christ child, who is holding an apple. MezzBy Claudine Lehman

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the spirit he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people. A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'”  Luke 2:25-32

This final Christmas song in Luke is a worship hymn from the lips of Simeon, an upright and devout man who was waiting  for the coming Messiah,  Israel’s consolation.

The word “waiting” caught my attention as I read this. Maybe because I’ve always had a hard time waiting. This passage tells us Simeon waited and the Holy Spirit was upon him, and that he would live to see the Messiah. Therefore he was in the right place (temple courts) at the right time (when parents came with the child) to see the Child Jesus, Israel’s consolation. What if Simeon had not been a “waiting” person?

I noticed too that Simeon was worshiping while waiting for the “coming Messiah.” He was blessing God for keeping his promise even though Simeon had not yet seen the Messiah. He was praising God that he was going to be privileged to see the Lord’s Christ. This reminds me of a time my husband gently reminded me that I needed to start praising God for who He is even though I couldn’t see He doing anything. Simeon was a man of faith who worshiped waiting patiently.

I noticed too that Simeon was at peace. Peace while waiting. He wasn’t afraid to die. Death meant freedom from the cares and burdens of this life and blessings of the next life. His was peacefully waiting.

 “He was waiting for the Messiah the consolation of Israel.” [vs. 25]

Think with me for a minute about this word “wait.” How many ways can we wait? Patiently wait? Eagerly wait? Or do we wait “with a shove,” a hurry up? Do we wait in fear? Are we tired of waiting?  Impatiently waiting? The list is endless.

I believe Simeon’s waiting involved focusing on all the promises of God. It involved many times of quiet solitude waiting to hear what God would say–times of daily searching the Scripture to learn the will and ways of God. Simeon had been waiting all his life. He would have been a working man, so the waiting had to involve a regular work day when he looked at life through the eyes of God, not man.

Simeon was an upright and devout man, who waited for the coming Messiah, Israel’s consolation.

I want to be like Simeon–waiting with patient,  in eager expectation of what God has next for me. I need to find times of quiet solitude to listen . . . longer times to be taught by the Word of God. I desire a heart to be obedient to the will of God. I too am waiting eagerly to see the Lord’s Christ.

The Song of Angels

christmas-angelBy Katie Kafka

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:13-14

As I read these verses from Luke 2 over and over again, I can’t help but let imagination take over in a flood of wonderment. What I would give to witness this heavenly multitude myself . . . to stand with the shepherds and absorb the glory of the Lord shining around me? What would that feel like? To hear the expression of angels proclaiming a message of praise and peace. What does that sound like? Is there anything tangible that could even compare? Perhaps the only thing (in my mind) that may come marginally close would be a virtuoso orchestra and choir performing Handel’s Messiah. Majestic in its own right, and yet, it still falls exceedingly short.

The angels’ song is both an upward praise giving glory to God in heaven and an outward petition of peace for mankind. God is Magnificent and nothing satisfies Him more than extending His gift of peace in full measure to the masses. As much as I whole-heartedly believe the notion of this song, how does this angelic phrase go beyond words on a page? How does it become more than an elaborate articulation in a familiar story?

Lets take a moment to notice the context immediately surrounding this heavenly display. Read Luke 2:1-20 and note any details surrounding the song. Who is the audience? What was their reaction to the song? How did they respond?

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

This heavenly display was reserved for an audience of common sheep herders and their flock. We see this time and again throughout the Bible. God is all about using ordinary people in an elevated way that transforms lives. Did you note the responsive progression of the shepherds in the passage? Fear progressed into an urgent need to reconcile the news of Immanuel. At first sight of baby Jesus, the shepherds, with a new-found peace, began to proclaim their story. The angel song is their testimony. A definitive moment in their life bringing them to the realization that God is with us. The Savior is here. All who heard their testimony wondered. Mary treasured and pondered it in her heart. The shepherds responded in praise, giving glory to God for this experience.

I encourage you to find a way to acknowledge your testimony this Christmas. This is why the Savior was born. We all have a story to share. So what is your “angel song”? What is your testimony? Can you identify a definitive moment in your life that brought you to a transforming realization that God is with you? Perhaps this moment started with fear and progressed to a heart of peace that only comes from resting in your salvation. To this I say, glory to God in the Highest! He is pleased.

Zechariah’s Song

incense-665068_960_720By Sunshine Metschke

There are so many beautiful, joy-filled hymns we sing at Christmastime. Some remind us of the sweetness of the silent night upon which the Savior was born and the humble conditions that surrounded Him. Some proclaim the long-awaited Savior has finally arrived!

But one familiar hymn has always sounded desperate and haunting to me . . .

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

This song represents the longing of God’s chosen ones, who at the time of Zechariah the Priest, had not heard from God for 400 years.

Silence.

No miracles.

No messengers.

NOTHING.

Until that one day when Zechariah, righteous in the sight of the Lord, was chosen by lot for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to offer the incense at the temple. This incense represented the prayers of the saints–the prayers of faithful generations desperate for the Messiah.

And it was in this moment that a holy interruption by the angel Gabriel began to reveal God’s plan for redemption, proclaiming the Messiah was indeed near.

11 “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”         (Luke 1:11-17)

What a startling event! This was not routine as usual. Did you catch what Gabriel told Zechariah would happen? There were many things packed into Gabriel’s words, but here are a few to focus upon:

“Your prayer has been heard.

Which prayer? The one I just prayed?  In his startled state, I’m guessing Zechariah was questioning every word which had just escaped his mouth. And while the Scriptures don’t tell us what Zechariah prayed for at this, the most important moment of his professional life, we can be certain that, as part of his priestly commitment, he prayed on behalf of the worshipers gathered outside that the Messiah would come soon. But he may have also prayed on behalf of his beloved Elizabeth, that the Lord might bless her.

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”

Now, having a baby might not seem too strange, except that Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah. And while they longed for a child, at their age, they believed that ship had sailed.

Zechariah’s disbelief is displayed in the coming verses as he questions Gabriel’s credentials and how this could even be possible. And because of his disbelief, he falls mute, unable to tell the waiting worshipers (or even his wife!) what has just occurred.

“He will bring back many of the people Israel to the Lord their God . . . and he will go on before the Lord . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Not only did Gabriel promise a child, but also that this child would prepare the people Israel for their Messiah.

If Zechariah, in his old age, was about to be a father to a child that would prepare the way for the Messiah, this meant the time of the Messiah was near.

What joy!

Months pass, and Elizabeth bears a son. When they take him to the temple to be circumcised, they assume he will be called Zechariah after his father, which was the cultural norm. But Elizabeth declares that the long-awaited child will be called John. The people question Elizabeth’s decision, but Zechariah confirms it by writing on a tablet, “His name is John.” In this act of obedience to what the angel Gabriel directed, Zechariah’s mouth was opened, and he was finally able to speak.

After at least nine months of his own silence, knowing that centuries of God’s silence would soon – very soon – be broken with the birth of the Messiah, Zechariah is filled with the Spirit and begins to praise the Lord, reminding those gathered of the promises that God had made, of the mighty acts of the coming King, and of the ways that God would restore His people to Himself:

 67His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”                  (Luke 1:67-75)

He reminds the people what they have been told for generations, encouraging them to continue clinging to the hope of the coming Messiah. Because He IS near.

And then, Zechariah prophesies over his newborn son, a powerful word about John’s high and holy calling:

76”And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”                                                             (Luke 1: 76-79)

Oh, that I may have the faith of Zechariah, a bold faith to come to the Lord in desperate prayer, knowing that The Lord is near. He hears. And He keeps his promises!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!