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25 Jan


One winter we received several inches of snow just after Christmas. The first days of the snow were joyous; the hazy winter sky and the snow-covered yard were beautiful, and being snowed in gave us some much-needed family time. It had been a very hectic and busy fall season, and I felt we needed some leisure time, so we canceled school for the week.

It was on one of those leisurely vacation days that the Lord reminded me of a valuable truth about faithfulness, strength, and joy. I was in the middle of feeding my oldest son, Justin. Due to a brain injury at the age of 5, Justin was severely handicapped, and although the break from therapists and caregivers had been a welcome reprieve from our usual schedule, several days without their assistance was beginning to wear on me. Justin was 15 at the time and weighed more than 120 lbs; transferring him from one place to another was no longer an easy task.

In the middle of his meal, he needed to get out of his wheelchair for a few minutes. “Oh, Justin, not now,” I groaned. For a moment I was angry with him, although he was not at fault. “Now it will take me twenty minutes longer to finish lunch,” I thought, as I pushed the wheelchair toward the bedroom, “plus two more transfers on my back,” I selfishly added.

Suddenly the Scripture “be not weary in well doing” came to my mind. The thought sharply admonished my soul. “Oh, Father,” I prayed, “forgive me of my selfishness.” The time was unimportant; I simply wanted a nap. I realized I was seeking my own solution to my weariness— both mental and physical, but I had forgotten the true source of strength, and that forgetfulness was robbing me of the joy of caring for my son.

I was reminded of the words of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31), and I remembered a sermon I had heard about this particular verse. The minister had encouraged his listeners to reconsider the definition of the words wait upon in this verse. Rather than “act with patience,” we should consider it to mean “to serve.” I thought about how my service to my children was my ministry to God and how blessed I was to be able to serve them. Ministry is not service to God when we serve begrudgingly or out of obligation, because then it becomes a duty rather than ministry. Ministry should be a service from the heart. When we serve out of a love that overflows from the heart, that service produces such exceedingly great joy that when we say to our children “it is my pleasure to do this for you,” it truly is.

Today I no longer have the joy of caring for my son. Justin went home to be with the Lord on March 3, 2004, at the age of 17, but the lesson I learned that day was forever etched into my memory. Over the years, when I have felt I deserved a break from the time and energy I was investing into homeschooling my children and running my household, the Lord has often brought it to mind. Yes, physical rest is important, but when we seek to renew our spirits in our own strength, we will repeatedly find ourselves lacking. It is a comfort to remember the words of Psalm 84:5: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee…”





17 Jan


As you face a new year, can you confidently say you are living out God’s calling on your life? Or can you at least say you are moving toward living out the life God has designed for you?

Look around. Talk to people. Read studies. Most people are stuck in a job or career they see as “drudgery,” a dating relationship that has them going nowhere, or a course of life that they are not enjoying. They are surviving, but not thriving. But this can be the year you begin to thrive…as you look at the calling God has placed on your life and you begin to live it out.

God created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. That means He also created us to do what we enjoy doing. But so many people settle because it’s easier (for the moment), it’s more comfortable (they think) and it’s “safe” (although drudgery can be torturous, at times).

Here are three principles to keep in mind when it comes to living out your calling and thriving in your life this year:

1) God calls us to obey Him…and obedience leads to joy.

When we follow Christ, we aren’t promised continual blue skies and unlimited happiness. Jesus did say that to follow Him involves denying ourselves and picking up a cross. At times that will mean suffering. And it will mean experiencing situations that cause us to depend on Him all the more. But there is a deep-seated joy that comes from the peace and satisfaction of knowing we are in God’s will.

For example, my husband is a pastor. That includes a lot of not-so-glamorous tasks associated with shepherding people. He doesn’t necessarily love his job at times, nor does it make him ridiculously happy. But because He is doing what God has called him to do, He experiences far more peace, joy and satisfaction than if he ran from the position and deafened His ears to God’s call.

David said in Psalm 16:11 “In your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand there are pleasures forever.” David knew that a life lived in close relationship with God, and therefore obedience to Him, produced joy.

Jesus said in John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” He then clarified what it meant to “remain” in Him: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (verse 10). He then promises joy as a result: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (verse 11).

So, if you are honoring and obeying God in all that you do, you might not necessarily be happy all the time, but you will experience the deep joy and peace that comes from remaining in His presence. Ask God for a heart to obey Him more this year. Obedience to God always results in a life of joy.

2) God calls us to glorify Him….and glorifying Him brings joy.

God often lays something on our hearts that He wants us to accomplish for His glory. And there is no greater joy than glorifying God with all that we are and all that we have.

When Jesus said “ask whatever you wish and it will be given you” He followed it up by saying “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Bearing fruit (good works) and being Christ’s disciple is not an option for a follower of Christ. It is a given. It will automatically happen as you obey Him, remain in Him and honor Him with your life.

Think about where you are working, what you are doing day in and day out, whom you are coming in contact with? Are you showing people around you that you possess the love of Christ, you are transformed by the power of His Holy Spirit, and you are the recipient of an eternal inheritance? I believe if we read Ephesians 1 each day and remembered all we have in Christ, it would bubble over in our lives and make an impact on how we live. Everything you say and do should be a testimony to others of whom you love and what He’s done for you. Scripture tells us “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Ask God how you can glorify Him in a greater way this year.

3) God calls us to a life of faith…and that leads to our dream.

If God called us to live safe, manageable lives, then we wouldn’t really need Him, apart from saving our souls and letting us sit it out until we are called home to heaven. Yet God wants to do through you what is beyond you. He wants to put you on display to the world of what He is able to do through a life of faith.

Scripture is full of verses that build our confidence in a God who can do anything. And He is most glorified when we step out to do the extraordinary through the help and empowerment of an extraordinary God.

Philippians 4:13 says “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” and Ephesians 3:20 says Christ is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” That tells me He is a God who is waiting to do the extraordinary—and what the world sees as impossible—through you.

So what is that dream on your heart? To quit your drudgery job and start that ministry, fulltime? To write that book God has laid on your heart? To trust Him with that move across the country? To expand your business by incorporating biblical principles? If it is His call you are obeying and His glory you are seeking, then He is the one who will equip you and empower you to do what is beyond you. Ask God how you can step out in faith this year and show the world how capable He is.

Don’t end 2013 in the same place where you are now. Listen for His call, obey His voice, ask Him how you can glorify Him and then step out in faith. A great adventure of thriving and living out His call on your life awaits.



10 Jan


Sex is one of the biggest somethings of all time in more fabulous ways than most people appreciate.

The Gate Leading to the House

Regarding the relationship between sex and the family, allow me the indulgence of quoting Chesterton again:

Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution. That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all. It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose. Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway. But the house is very much larger than the gate. There are indeed a certain number of people who like to hang about the gate and never get any further.1

Sex certainly isn’t an end in itself, any more than a gate is an end. It leads us somewhere. Sex ushers us into something grand and glorious, more than we can imagine. Therefore, we need to understand its nature and participate in it as it was meant to be.

C. S. Lewis refers to this when he says, “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.”2

A Christian view of human sexuality is all about context – making sure we don’t separate some part of the thing from all the others that are intended to make it a complete thing. The Message, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, states it this way:

There is more to sex than mere skin to skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE.” … We must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever — the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. (1 Corinthians 6:16-18)

Again, we accomplish this not by merely understanding how we should act or not act, but how human sexuality reflects the very inner life of God and how it gives Him glory when we live in it as He created it.

What is God’s Interest in Sex?

… Adam as man and Eve as woman are uniquely created to show forth the image of God in creation. They reflect it as individuals and they reflect it as complements to one another. This image is one of love, intimacy, creativity, cooperation, beauty, glory, and much more. In Adam and Eve’s God-given design, let’s observe how their sexuality is a primary part of their being.

What’s the first statement God makes to Adam and Eve after their creation? “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

Think of this in terms of what He doesn’t tell them to do. From the start, God doesn’t tell Adam and Eve to engage in

  • learning, as intellectual beings,
  • prayer, as spiritual beings,
  • economics, as industrious and productive beings,
  • politics, as orderly and civil beings, or
  • writing stories, performing music or dance, or doing art, as creative beings.

Of course, each of these is part of our God-given humanity and part of God’s command to “subdue” the earth. Each of these is a part of family life that we should practice and celebrate. But these are not what came first. God blesses man and woman and bids them to be fruitful and multiply—exercising and reveling in their nature as sexual beings. This was the first command for humanity, and Adam and Eve were, no doubt, quite happy to obey. God was pleased also.

Likewise, let’s look at the event when Adam and Eve, fresh from the mouth of God, first gaze upon each other. Adam didn’t look at Eve and declare his appreciation for her intellectual brilliance, her sensible outlook on life, or her spiritual piety. Not by a long shot!

Adam and Eve first glory in something else, something some Christian theologies have unfortunately and incorrectly thought of as quite base and ungodly. They marvel at each other’s bodies—their flesh. When Adam sees Eve for the first time, he proclaims with great excitement, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23, NIV).

He can’t help but recognize this aspect of her. God had made Eve beautiful and Adam knew instinctively that this partner was just right for him. Adam was a physical and emotional oddity without Eve, but now it all made sense. Both of them understood the naked truth (sorry!) that Adam was made for Eve and Eve was made for Adam. God revealed it in their flesh, as part of His perfect design.

This helps us understand something very important about Christianity. As C. S. Lewis said, “Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body—which believes that matter is good, [where] God Himself once took on a human body.”

This gets us back to Chesterton’s quip about the vulgar joke. Satan can corrupt sexuality and the flesh and turn it into something ugly. But it is, at its core, something beautiful and godly. Therefore, the flesh is spiritual and we should appreciate and cherish it under the lordship of Christ.




1 Jan

HOW DO I SHARE MY FAITH? by Donna S. Thomas

It was a cramped international flight – our destination, Costa Rica. The young woman came stumbling down the narrow aisle with her bags in tow. After stowing her suitcase in the overhead bin, she squeezed into the seat next to mine, heaving an anxious sigh as she buckled herself in. As so often happens when people are thrown together in such close quarters, friendly introductions were exchanged. Within minutes we were engaged in friendly conversation. She seemed relieved to have someone to talk to.

She explained that she was from New York, on her way to Costa Rica to stay with people she didn’t know; a friend had arranged the visit so she could spend a week in that country. Now that she was on the final leg of her trip, her anxiety was growing. As the plane taxied down the runway, she queried me about airplane travel, about Costa Rica, about how to go through immigration, and what she could expect of the culture and people when she arrived.

I was sure the Lord had put us together so I could help her. I had been to Costa Rica several times. After I answered her questions and calmed her fears, she asked what kind of work I do.

“I’m an author, on my way to Costa Rica to see some of my friends,” I explained. “I write about my adventures with the Lord.” That piqued her curiosity. More questions followed and I shared about my faith, how the Lord has worked in my life, using me to help further His Kingdom through international missions. Finally she asked, “How can you know the Lord is with you?”

Great! I had hoped she’d pop the “big” question. We had a marvelous opportunity to talk about the Lord, and I then had the privilege of praying with her right there on the plane.

This encounter and many others like it with “strangers” have taught me that life is full of opportunities to witness. I look forward to strangers sitting next to me on planes. I even enjoy it when sales people come to my house. It’s surprising how easily people are led into conversations about deep spiritual issues. I think it’s an indication of just how thirsty people are for God’s truth. I welcome the opportunity to share the Good News and pray daily that God will use me to bring people closer to Him. I’m certain these casual, everyday encounters are actually Divine appointments, planned by the Master of the universe. I encourage you to be open to similar opportunities to share your faith with others. What a joy to be used by Him!



28 Dec


‘Twas’ 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38 when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven’s gate.

their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.

they could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.

they were filled with such joy, they didn’t know what to say.

they remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.

“where are we?” asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.

“this is heaven.” declared a small boy. “we’re spending Christmas at God’s house.”

when what to their wondering eyes did appear,

but Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near.

He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.

then He opened His arms and He called them by name.

and in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring

those children all flew into the arms of their King

and as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,

one small girl turned and looked at Jesus’ face.

and as if He could read all the questions she had

He gently whispered to her, “I’ll take care of mom and dad.”

then He looked down on earth, the world far below

He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe

then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,

“Let My power and presence re-enter this land!”

“may this country be delivered from the hands of fools”

“I’m taking back my nation. I’m taking back my schools!”

then He and the children stood up without a sound.

“come now my children, let me show you around.”

excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.

all displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.

and i heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,

“in the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT.”

Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA (my hometown)

(in memory of the 20 children killed in Newton, Conn, USA)

bless the littles melonheadz colored


19 Dec


It’s not uncommon for Christian singles to feel depressed during the holiday season. If we’re not half of a couple, we can find Christmas just another hard time to get through.

As someone who has been a Christian single more than 40 years, I eventually learned that beating the holiday blues is a matter of focus. When we get our focus off ourselves and on to other things, it can make Christmas time enjoyable again.

Being Single at Christmas Can Help You Focus on Others

If we’re honest, we singles would admit we can be morbidly self-centered. We’re a family of one, and our mind is usually fixated on how that one is doing, moment by moment. Everything gets viewed through the narrow lens of “I”.

Yes, it would be great if people constantly showered us with love and attention during the holidays, but let’s get real. Our married friends have their spouse to think about, often children, and they have family and other friends, too.

It may be a cliché to say that the way to happiness is to make others happy, but it’s also true. Paul quoted Jesus Christ as saying, “’It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35, NIV)

We’ve been conditioned to associate giving with presents, but one of the most valuable gifts we can give someone is our time and our ability to listen. Loneliness strikes everyone. Just spending time with a friend or relative over lunch or a cup of coffee can do both of us a world of good. To show someone you care about them and to say it is a priceless way of focusing on others.

Of course there are toy drives, and charities always need volunteers. These are the kinds of others-focused activities that make you happy because you’re making someone else happy. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, even in small things.

Being Single at Christmas Can Help You Focus on the Future

Christian singles who are not paired up during Christmas may reminisce about past relationships, beating ourselves up for mistakes we made. Let me tell you that regret is Satan’s way of using your past to spoil your present.

As children of God, our past sins are forgiven: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25, NIV). If God has forgotten our sins, so should we.

The “If only…” game is a waste of time. There is no guarantee that a past relationship might have ended in happily-ever-after. Maybe it would have ended in misery, and that’s why God lovingly plucked you out of it.

We singles can’t live in the past. The adventure lies ahead. We don’t know what God has planned for us in the rest of this life, but we do know what to expect in the next life, and it’s good. In fact, it’s incredible.

By taking our focus off the past and putting it on the hope of tomorrow and what’s to come, we have much to look forward to. When you serve a loving God, life can change for the better in an instant. Christian singles live a story with a guaranteed happy ending.

Being Single at Christmas Can Help You Focus on God

When we’re caught up in shopping and parties and decorations, even Christian singles can lose sight that this whole thing is about Jesus Christ.

That baby in the manger is the gift of a lifetime—an eternal lifetime. We will never receive anything more valuable than him. He is the love we have always chased after, the understanding we so desperately need, and the forgiveness we’d be lost without.

Jesus makes it possible for single people to get through life, not just at Christmas, but all year ‘round. He gives us meaning when we have none. Jesus gives us a purpose that rises above the pettiness of this world.

Being single at Christmas often means pain, but Jesus is there to wipe away our tears. At this time of year, he is as close as we need him to be. When we feel sad, Jesus is our hope.

When we focus on Jesus Christ, we find our bearings again. If you can grasp that Jesus, out of pure love, sacrificed himself for you, that truth will carry you through Christmas and far beyond.



14 Dec


Because the manger is the most hopeful place in a universe

We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ahem—problems with this season are no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christ­mas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It’s been a story hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circum­stances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce, or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrec­tion we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose mar­riages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want “home” but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.

Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.

Matt B. Redmond is associate pastor for Branch Life Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, he blogs at Scribo Facio Noto.