Friday, March 29, 2013

Do You Know Jesus? ~ Remembering Why Jesus Died and Rose Again

As we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus this weekend, let's remember why He died and rose again:

Do you ever wonder why you were created?  God created you to have a personal relationship with Him, to glorify Him, and to live forever with Him in Heaven when you die.  Apart from this relationship with God, you cannot find the joy, fulfillment, and peace that you were meant to have.
We all have a problem.  There is darkness in our hearts.  We have all sinned and disobeyed God. We have thought, said, and done wrong things. We have lied, cheated, been selfish, etc.  God sees everything.  Because God is holy and just, He cannot allow sin in His presence.  Our sin separates us from God, and causes us to deserve His punishment, including being separated from Him eternally in hell when we die.  Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."  Trying to do good things ("...and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags..."  Is. 64:6), going to church, not sinning "really badly", etc. will not save you, or earn you a place in Heaven.  God is loving and merciful, but He is also holy and just.  Even one little sin cannot be allowed before God.  Otherwise, God would not be holy and just.

Because God is also loving and merciful, He made a way for us to be forgiven for our sins and be right with Him.  God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to earth.  Jesus lived a perfect life free from any sin, died on the cross to take the punishment that we deserved for our sins, and rose again victorious over sin to live forever.  In doing this, God made a way for us to be right with Him.  Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
When you believe in, trust, and receive Christ as your Savior from your sins, repent and turn from your sins, and surrender to Him as Lord (the one in charge of your life), He will wash you from your sins, bring you into a right relationship with God, and bring you to heaven to be with Him when you die.  Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  You must personally respond to God’s grace and receive and put your faith and trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord.  It is between you and God.  No one else can submit to Jesus in faith and surrender for your personal salvation – only you can.  It is the most critical thing in your life – it determines your standing with God and your eternal destiny in heaven or hell!    

Believing in and surrendering to Christ is not something that takes place only in your mind.  It is something that must take place in your heart and come out in your actions.  Just like I can say that I believe that a chair will hold me up, I am not truly believing and placing my faith in the chair until I actually sit on it!  It is the same way with believing in Jesus to save you.  It is when you fully lean on Him to save you and give your life to Him that you truly are believing in Him as Savior and surrendering to Him as Lord.  It will be evidenced through how you live your life.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
If you confess your sins to God, ask His forgiveness, and turn from them - and instead trust and believe in Jesus as your Savior from your sins and surrender your life to Him as your Lord (which means you put Him in charge), you will then be saved and will be a child of God."  John 1:12 says, " many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."  Then Christ will come into your life, wash away your sins, help you to live for Him, and bring you to heaven to be with Him when you die.  Then when God looks at you, He no longer sees your sins, but Jesus.  Because of this, you can be in a right relationship with God, live for His glory by His strength, and spend eternity in Heaven with Him when you die.  This is the most important thing in life, is what you were created for, is where you will find true peace, and determines your eternal destiny.

In order to be right with God, you must:
1. Admit to God your sinful heart and your need for His forgiveness.
2. Believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and put your trust in Him to save you.
3. Ask for and receive His forgiveness, and turn from your sins to follow Him.
4. Surrender your life to Jesus Christ and invite Him to come in and control your life as your Lord and Savior.

In your own words, you can pray something like the following prayer:
"Dear Lord, I know that I have sinned and need Your forgiveness.  I believe that You died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and I trust You to save me.  Please forgive me for my sins, come into my life as my Lord and Savior, and help me to live for You.  I choose to turn from my sins, trust You as my Lord and Savior, surrender my life to You, and to follow You from now on.  Thank you for dying in my place so that I can be right with You and spend eternity with You in heaven when I die. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Romans 10:9-11 tells us, "…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”’ (ESV)

Once you have received salvation through Jesus Christ, your new life in Him has just begun.  John 5:24 says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”  "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."  2 Corinthians 5:17

To grow in your relationship with the Lord you should:
1. Read the Bible (God's word to you) every day. (The book of John is a good place to start.)
2. Spend time daily talking to God in prayer.
3. Worship the Lord, fellowship, and serve with other Christians in a church where God’s Word is preached.
4. Live for Christ and tell others about Him.

The Lord will never leave you.  He will make Himself more real to you as you seek Him and will satisfy the longings of your heart.  The Lord will help you to live for Him!  As His child, you have the joy of walking with Him in this life and the joy of knowing that you will spend eternity with Him in Heaven!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Embracing the Beauty of Friendship ~ by Lianna

Red-haired Anne of Green Gables put into words what many of us have wondered. Shortly after her arrival at Green Gables, Anne confided to Marilla her dream regarding friendship - she wondered if she would ever find “a bosom friend... a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul”. If you know the story, you know that Anne did find that friend in a girl named Diana. Does Anne’s desire ring true for you as well? It does for me! We were created to be in relationships - first with God, and then with one another.

When Jesus died on the cross, He purchased our salvation from the penalty of sin and provided the way for a relationship with the holy God of the universe. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself...” (2 Corinthians 5:18). God created us for relationship with Him! For those who trust Him as Savior, we have THE GREATEST FRIEND that can ever be found. Before an earthly “bosom friend” or “kindred spirit” will ever satisfy, we must recognize and embrace the cup-overflowing fullness that is found in Christ alone.

The psalmist David knew this to be true (emphasis mine):
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty Rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62)

Those words have comforted me often, especially in times when
friendships seemed to fail me or elude me. Finding our fulfillment, strength, hope, and all that we need in GOD frees us to enjoy human friendship without placing unrealistic expectations on imperfect people to meet our needs. Have you ever felt like you were on a roller coaster when human friendships ebbed and flowed, or even brought misunderstanding or hurt? With God our Father, there is no shadow of change (James 1:17)! He is a rock-solid Anchor that will not move, and a Friend that will not fail or forsake us. Ever. The Word of God is full of the blessings that we find in relationship with our heavenly Father, whom we can also call “friend”. He is worth knowing as our dearest friend! 

When our deepest needs are first satisfied in God, we are then free to give and receive in human friendships.
And these human friendships are profoundly significant! “He who walks with the wise grows wise” (Proverbs 13:20)... and “as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). The people with whom we spend time will influence who we become. For this reason, the friends we choose as our closest confidants should have qualities that we want to cultivate in our own lives.

Where can such friends be found? For starters, you may have some wonderful friend prospects right within your own family. Don’t overlook your siblings! Friends may come and go, but you will be related to your family as long as this life lasts. Then, pray for God to reveal “kindred spirits” to you from other places as well - this may be at church, in your neighborhood, at a class, or somewhere entirely unexpected! God will provide just who you need, at just the right time. Recognize that there will be friends of the journey, and friends of specific seasons - some friendships will be precious for certain times in your life, and then time or distance will drift your paths apart. Other friends will be ones that will stick through all of life, even if time and space separate you at times.

How can deep, meaningful friendships be cultivated? Friendships that will take you beyond the surface are those whose roots are grounded in a shared love for and delight in God. If the deepest common roots of your friendship are your relationship with God, this is a bond that will hold you together far beyond circumstances alone. You will have more to talk about than a shared class or a recent purchase of clothing. Enduring friendship requires a willingness to be honest and real, and opportunities to share both daily life and the depths of your heart. One of my dearest friendships began when I was 16 - we didn’t know each other well, but she and I agreed to become prayer and accountability partners. This built the foundation of our friendship first on our relationships with God. As the years have passed, we have been able to share each others joys and sorrows, grow to be more honest and real with one another, and enjoy the gift of a sweet friendship for the journey! You might know this friend - her name is Amy. :)

I do not know where this finds you. Do you feel like you are in the wilderness, far from any prospect of a kindred spirit or bosom friend? Or are you enjoying nourishment from a blossoming garden of sweet human friendships? Whatever your friendship situation, there is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. Our heavenly Father is ready to meet your deepest need for companionship, first in Himself... and then through the friendships He will bring in His perfect time, for your good and His glory.

Announcing the March Giveaway Winner!

We are excited to announce that the March Giveaway Winner is: Michaela!!!

We are so blessed each time you take part in the giveaways and know that the time that you spent with Jesus and memorizing His Word is the best reward you could receive!

Please stay tuned for the April Giveaway!

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
~ John 13:34

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Joy of Hospitality ~ by Amy Vest

The sounds of car doors closing, doorbells ringing, and excited greetings ring through the air…  The guests are arriving!

Over the past few weeks, the Lord has given the beautiful gift of the opportunity to practice lots of hospitality – including everything from hosting missionary friends for dinner, to having out of town guests stay with us for a few days.  It has been such a sweet blessing and reminder of the gift God has given us in hospitality!

Hospitality is a wonderful opportunity for welcoming people into our home, seeking to show the Lord’s love, Truth, and heart to them in a way that refreshes, encourages, and blesses their soul, heart, and body.

I love Romans 15:7 - “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”   We have the amazing call and opportunity to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us – for His glory!  It is such a privilege from the Lord!  

Hospitality is meant to be a powerful tool to extend Christ’s love, build relationships, and encourage one another in the Lord!

Hospitality can mean inviting a family over for a meal, a warm conversation and a cup of cold water (Matt. 10:42) for someone who is just dropping by to pick something up, welcoming an out of town guest, hosting a Bible Study, and so many other things.
I have seen firsthand the overflowing blessings of it – in the lives of the hosts and the guests – as I have witnessed how the Lord can dynamically work through hospitality to refresh, encourage, bless, convict, spur on, and deepen: walks with the Lord, advancement of the Kingdom, and human relationships. 

Scripture is filled with verses calling us to hospitality:
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”  Romans 12:13
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  1 Peter 4:9

It is something that we are called by the Lord to embrace – and
all that our God calls us to is for His glory, our joy, and the blessing of others!  Isn’t that wonderful?  I want to grow in obeying this beautiful call for as long as I live – Will you join me?

Let’s look at some thoughts on practicing hospitality as we seek to embrace the Lord’s amazing call:

~ Ask the Lord who He would have you invite – Pray through who the Lord would have you reach out to and welcome.  This can be hospitality for: outreach, discipleship, fellowship, refreshing those in ministry, family get-togethers, etc.

~ Pray for the time – Ask the Lord for His presence to be in your midst, His blessing on the time, and for His will to be done.

~ Prepare – Take time to prepare your heart, the menu, house cleaning, conversation questions, and anything else that will be a benefit for the time with your guests.  This can include finding out if your guests have food sensitivities, thinking of questions that will specifically welcome, bless, and encourage them to open up and be ministered to, setting out toys for their children to use, etc.  Most of all, it is important that you have let the Lord prepare your heart – This is far better than having a perfect house and meal, but a frazzled heart!  (The story of Mary and Martha is a beautiful example of this in Luke 10:38-42.)

~ Welcome your guests – Let them see how glad you are that they have come.  Seek to make them feel comfortable and welcome.  Take their coats, offer them something to drink, and invite them to sit somewhere comfortable.  “…welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you...”  (Romans 12:15)   

~ Show Christ’s love – Allow the Lord to pour His love on them through you, making them feel cared for and valued.  Take interest in them, ask questions to draw them out, care about them and what they are sharing, and let them know that they are precious to the Lord and to you.  “…love one another; as I have loved you…”  (John 13:34)

~ Encourage them in Truth – Share things the Lord has been teaching you and doing in your life.  Find out how He has been moving in their lives.  Affirm them in how they are following Him and walking in His Truth.  Encourage them towards God’s Truth and best in their lives.  “…let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”  (Hebrews 10:24)

~ Enjoy each others’ fellowship – Soak in getting to know them better.  Embrace the times of sharing, laughter, tears, and discussion.  Treasure the joy of sharing the journey.  “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”  (Romans 12:15)

~ Minister to their physical needsMinistering to physical needs is a beautiful doorway into ministering to the deeper issues of the heart.  This can include: rest and refreshment, a nourishing meal, comfort, helping them with their children, etc.  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (James 2:15-17)

~ Be sensitive to their needsAllow the Lord to keep you alert to and show you needs that you can let Him minister to your guests through you to meet.  This can be everything from watching for when their water glass needs refilling, to discussing a deep issue of the heart.

~ The heartbeat of hospitality – You have the joy of walking with Jesus, seeking to let Him share His love through you, and letting Him lead you in sensitive thoughtfulness in watching for the needs of your guests and how you can bless them.  It is sharing Jesus and His love that we have known with others!  This is so important to keep in mind as you practice hospitality.

~ Bless them as they leave – As your guests leave, it can be so sweet to share how you were blessed by your time with them, tell them how you are encouraged by God’s work in them, and even pray for them before they leave.

May our guests leave having met with the Lord through the time, feeling loved by the Lord and us, encouraged in Truth, and refreshed for the journey!

The Lord bless you as you seek to welcome others as Christ welcomed you and allow Him to minister to them through time with you!

As you practice the joy of hospitality, remember the beautiful words of Jesus, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”  Matthew 25:40

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Investing in Your Siblings ~ Rachel's Testimony

I am the oldest of four siblings - three sisters ages 12-19, and an eight year old brother. Over the past few years, the Lord has really opened my eyes to see His incredible plan for my sibling relationships and the amazing opportunity I have to influence my siblings for good. Our sibling relationships are often the longest relationships we have, since we know our siblings our entire life. Siblings are also special because they are hand-picked by God, just for us!

So what does God intend for our sibling relationships? If you’ve grown up in Christian circles like me, you’ve probably heard lots of good teaching on learning to get along with your siblings. And maybe, like I did, you think that you already have a pretty good relationship with your siblings. But two years ago, a friend challenged me with the words, “You need to do more than just not fight with your siblings. You need to be discipling them.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. From that day on, I looked at my sibling relationships in a whole new light.

The Lord began to show me that He had more in mind for us than “not fighting” and even more than “having fun times”. I actually needed to embrace the responsibility of truly loving them, which meant caring about how they were doing spiritually… in other words, discipling them. The exciting thing is that discipleship is the most important work that Christians are called to do! Right before Christ ascended to heaven, He left His disciples with one last command, which is what we call the great commission:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “…go and make disciples of all nations, …teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus Christ tells us that discipleship is the work that He has left us here to do. That’s my job from Christ, and it starts right in my own family. I not only get the privilege of sharing their lives, but of helping to shape them into the people that they will become.

So what does it take to be a good discipler?

1.       A Relationship
I realized that my siblings have to trust, respect, and love me or they won’t want to listen to me. For me, a big part of this has been learning to listen to my siblings. Sometimes they want to tell me about things that don’t seem really important or interesting to me, like the dream that they just had, the book they just read, or the paper airplane they just built. But it’s important to them, so learning to listen to them shows them that I really love them.

2.       Time
There are two kinds of time that I try to share with my siblings, quantity time, and quality time.

Quantity time means how much time I spend with them. I try to involve them in my life in whatever I happen to be doing. For example, if I am cooking a meal, I include them by having them help chop vegetables, set the table, or cook another part of the meal. If I go on errands, I take a sibling with me. Being with my siblings day in and day out gives them the opportunity to see the way that I live. My prayer is that as my siblings see the good the bad and the ugly in me, they will see Christ’s fingerprints over it all- in the areas of my life that are good, that they see that I am good because Christ has sanctified me in that area, and in the areas that are bad, that they see me praying and working to overcome my sin for God’s glory. They get "front row seats" to seeing me repent (some times to them) and seeing The Lord work changes in me.

Quality time means the type of time that I spend with them. Mostly, our time is spent in simply living, but I also try to be deliberate about setting aside times to spend one-on-one time with them in a unique way. Sometimes I take them out on a “date”, and go out for ice cream, go to the thrift store, or do something else that they enjoy. But it doesn’t always have to be something like that, we also do fun things at home like read a chapter book, make a craft, or build a fort with blankets and chairs in the living room!

3.       Your Own Spiritual Growth to Share From

In order to pour into my siblings spiritually, I have to be filled by God spiritually myself. This takes having a daily time with the Lord where I study the Scriptures and pray. When I am stagnant spiritually, I don’t have anything worthwhile to share with my siblings, but when God opens my eyes to new things in His Word, it’s the perfect springboard for a conversation with a sibling. I also try to read theological books and listen to good sermons that teach me how to live a more godly life, and my siblings and I love to share quotes, or ideas that we read, with each other.

As my siblings see me living each day, they inevitably see my sin. I am far from being the perfect sister! Though I can’t avoid them seeing my sin, I can either be an example of dealing with it in a godly way or an ungodly way. The Lord has convicted me that I need to be an example of keeping short accounts and asking for forgiveness right away. My prayer is that even though my siblings will see my sin, that they will also see me work by the grace of God to overcome it.

For this purpose I labor, striving according to His power which mightily works within me.
 May I decrease, that Christ may increase! Col 1:29, Jn 3:30