Tag Archives: guest bloggers

An Inexpensive Gift You Can Give

Chrystal Evans Hurst SEPTEMBER 16, 2015

An Inexpensive Gift You Can Give
CHRYSTAL EVANS HURST

“Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well.” 1 Peter 4:10 (CEV)

I really needed to talk to someone.

I desperately needed to process the ramifications of a heavy weight I carried and wanted to hear a caring voice on the other end of the line. I desired the gift of truth wrapped in encouragement and presented with a little affirmation.

So I picked up the phone and called my friend.

She answered, but I could tell she was busy. She was in the car with her kids running errands, so I offered to call her back and chat later, but she insisted that she had time to talk.

I believed her and began sharing my heart’s concerns.

However, multiple times during our conversation, she asked me to hold while she took another call or needed to talk to her kids. She did try hard to listen well in between distractions, but after about 10 minutes, she interrupted me to say that she’d arrived at her destination. She needed to get her kids out of the car and take care of her errand. She offered to call me back.

I was left hanging, feeling a tad unimportant, and a lot silly for even attempting to “put myself out there” and share my struggle and desire for encouragement. In the moment where I needed support and reached out for that very thing, I was left with a sense of regret for even trying.

Now, I know my friend didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, imply that I wasn’t important or leave me hanging. How do I know this you might ask? Because I’ve been that friend, too.

There have been times when someone has called or reached out to me and in my genuine and sincere desire to make time for them, I’ve squeezed them into a space in my time that wasn’t adequate. I’m guilty of unintentionally leaving people I love and care for feeling forgotten and a tad bit unimportant.

So what do I wish my friend had done? What did I become painfully aware of that I can do for others?

Give the gift of attention.

Attention is an easy and inexpensive gift that you and I can give to others.

In Mark 5:25-34, we find Jesus busy with the demands of His everyday ministry life. Healing and teaching took up a lot of His time and the more He did, the more the people wanted Him to do. Large crowds followed Him and pressed in on Him everywhere He went. Jesus was a busy man on a mission.

And yet, one woman needed His help and desired His attention.

She carried the heavy weight of a broken spirit and body. She suffered from abnormal bleeding and carried with it the shame, frustration and loneliness of being an outcast — an “untouchable.” She desired the gift of wholeness wrapped in compassion and presented with a little mercy, so she took the risk of reaching out to Jesus.

She touched Him.

And Jesus noticed. Even amidst the busy demands of His day, He stopped and gave special attention to this woman, her problem and her heart’s desire. Jesus made room in an overflowing schedule, and as a result, a woman received a new opportunity at life and we have a great picture of what it means to give others the gift of our attention.

Jesus spent time with those who would have easily gone unnoticed by others. He willingly and regularly paused His own activities, engaged one-on-one, and made room for meaningful conversations. He gave the gift of His attention and it cost Him nothing more than His time. Because of His example, I am reminded of how important it is to make room in my life for unexpected interruptions.

And I’m reminded of the gift my undivided attention can be to others.

Dear Jesus, I’m so glad You understand what it is to have an overflowing schedule. Yet, You still made time to give the gift of Your full attention when You engaged with others. Help me to do the same. Give me the wisdom to know when to pause and with whom I should engage. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” (NASB)

RELATED RESOURCES:
Do you desire to give the gift of attention to others but don’t seem to have room in your life to do so? Check out The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst.

Chrystal has created a free printable to help you remember to focus on the needs of others. Click here to download.

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Do you struggle with giving others your undivided attention? Why do you think that is?

Pray and ask God to show you how you can give the gift of your attention to someone today.

© 2015 by Chrystal Evans Hurst. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

Unwanted Change in Your Life

Kristen Strong SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

Unwanted Change in Your Life
KRISTEN STRONG

“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you …’ So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Genesis 12:1-2a, 4a (NIV)

I stand in the kitchen, lost in the rhythm of dinner preparation, while singing with a tune sauntering from the radio. Suddenly, an offbeat percussion noise invades my peaceful space as it bounces around the house. I quickly move to the window to see if it’s what I think it is. Sure enough, nickel-sized hail pings everything, like a drumbeat set to the tune of destruction.

I fly out the door to bring my potted plants toward protection. But it’s not ‘til the storm leaves and the hail melts that I see the full extent of the damage.

Flourishing flowerbeds have been reduced to flower shrapnel. The potted arrangements fared better because I brought them in mid-storm, but many petunia and geranium stems stand stark naked, their foliage in limp piles on the Miracle-Gro dirt.

Commence yours truly throwing a fit big enough to make any toddler proud. I stomp my feet and shout, “It’ll take a miracle to get these flowers back to the way they were!”

This is one change I could do without.

If you’re like me and have spent much of life viewing unwanted change with crossed arms and stomping feet, you might see it like a devastating hailstorm. Just when your life is settled and moving along well, something comes along and damages much that is beautiful within it.

The man who was supposed to stay, left.
The place that was “home,” is no longer your address.
The boss you showed your best work to, showed you the door.

A monumental moment fell into your life, and it stands like a stone in your pathway blocking your contentment. Within the darkness of your fears, you think, “It’ll take a miracle to get things back to the way they were.”

As a longtime Air Force wife, my life played to the soundtrack of change. Just when I got used to something — our location, local friends, my husband’s schedule — things would be shaken and rearranged, and I’d have to get used to something different. I spent years fighting this reality until one day I felt the Lord ask me to change my prayers from God, remove this change from my life to a new perspective: God, remove my attitude toward this change.

Sometimes, a girl has to find a new song to sing. I needed new lyrics to redirect my attention from my fears to the faithful promises of God, like the one found in Genesis.

In Genesis 12, when God asks Abram to leave his home for a new, unfamiliar land, He gave Abram a promise to hold onto during the weary transition. A promise to bless Abram through the change. And you know what? God does the same for you and me as He did for Abram.

If God is sending you to a new place, He’s sending you with a promise of blessing.

Perhaps the best thing you and I can do is, like Abram, obey God by leaning into the change rather than fighting it.

Whether you experience transition under your feet, in your heart, or both, the Lord is using it for you, not against you. He is bringing you to a new place for the purpose of blessing you. We can trust change is not a life hindrance, but a life occurrence acting as a stepping-stone toward God’s best for us.

It’s more than OK to mourn the loss change brings. But as we do, may we also remember that change is not the end. A new song, sung to the tune of God’s promises and to the steady rhythm of His grace, is the blessing to find as a result.

Dear Father, thank You that while unwanted change is a surprise to me, it’s not a surprise to You. Thank You for being my safe place where I can share my fears about this change. Help me to believe that if You’re allowing something I never fathomed into my life, it’s because You’re working something unfathomably good for me through it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Romans 9:33, “God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, ‘I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’” (NLT)

Galatians 3:29, “And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” (NLT)

RELATED RESOURCES:
Read the rest of Kristen Strong’s change story as well as the stories of others in her hope-filled book Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You Through Life’s Transitions.

Find more everyday encouragement and downloadable freebies when you stop by Kristen’s blog, Chasing Blue Skies.

Enter to WIN a copy of Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong. In celebration of this book, Kristen’s publisher is giving away 10 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here, letting us know why you’d like a copy for yourself OR whom you would give the book to, if you won. {We’ll randomly select 10 winners and email notifications to each one by Monday, September 21.}

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
What changes are you fearful about today? What is one way you can lean into the change in your own life?

© 2015 by Kristen Strong. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Revell Publishers for their sponsorship of today’s devotion.

Click here to view our policy on 3rd party links.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

Advice for Parents

Helping Your Child Get Into Their Dream College: Part One, The Tests

Helping Your Child Get Into Their Dream College

Part One, The Tests

Ciera Horton

 

It’s that time of year again, with college students heading back, seniors preparing to apply to school, and parents pulling out the tissue boxes. As I return for my junior year of college and my sister prepares to graduate from high school, I’ve seen all the emotional responses in my own family. “My baby is growing up so fast! They’re moving away! How often will they come home? Will they have everything they need? Are they really ready? Am I really ready?”

Advice for Parents

Parents, if your child is looking towards applying to their dream schools, you have the opportunity to help them make their goals achievable. College may be overwhelming, but if you stand by your student, then this can be an adventure you embark on together. In this article series, we are going to be examining some of the most common questions, concerns and confusions regarding the college application process. As a student myself at the Christian liberal arts school Wheaton College in Illinois, I know from experience how to prepare for standardized tests, apply for private scholarships, gather letters of recommendation, give a winning interview and write a memorable entrance essay. At the end of my college prep, I got my ideal test scores, earned over $42,000 in private scholarships and made it to my dream school. So let’s get started!

1. What is the difference between the SAT and ACT? Does my child need both?
Both the SAT and ACT are official standardized tests that most colleges accept and require. The SAT is a logic and critical thinking style test that will examine your child’s problem solving skills. The subjects on the test are Math, Critical Reading, Writing and the Essay. The Math section will cover basic Algebra and Geometry, but not Precalculus and Trigonometry, and your child can use a standard calculator on this exam. Critical Reading will provide your child with a passage based response section examining their comprehension. Writing is actually a grammar section testing their knowledge of parts of speech and vocabulary. Lastly, there is the essay; your child will have 25 minutes to respond to a prompt in a short written exercise. The number one key to this is having a succinct thesis (single argument or main point) which they then support with logical analysis. If a question is answered incorrectly on the SAT, there is a deduction of 1/4 a point. The highest possible SAT score is a 2400.
The ACT is similar, however the Math section does have Precalculus and some Trigonometry. The benefit, however, is that there is no point deduction for incorrect answers. In addition, there is a Science section — this part of the test does not necessarily ask questions based on high school science classes, but instead asks your child to analyze graphing and data provided in sample problems. The highest possible ACT score is a 36.
When applying to colleges, students typically need scores from at least one of the two options, but you will want to check each school’s requirements individually.

2. How do I know when the SAT and ACT are being offered? How do I register my child?
You can find the dates for the SAT online at the official CollegeBoard website here https://
sat.collegeboard.org/register. Instructions are provided on how to register your child. You can sign up for the ACT on the official website here: http://www.actstudent.org/regist/.

3. What is super-scoring and how might it help me?
Super-scoring is the standardized testing miracle! It allows you to combine your highest scores form different times the test was taken. For example, if your student gets a 25 on ACT Math and 32 ACT Writing on their first try, but then takes the test the next year and gets a 30 ACT Math and 29 ACT Writing, you can show only the highest scores from each category on your transcript. It will only show 30 ACT Math (from the second try) and 32 ACT Writing (from the first). Talk to your school guidance counselor about super-scoring.

4. How can I help my child study for the tests?
The best way to help your child is to actually make them study. A high majority of students don’t practice or do any sample problems before walking in on testing day. This is like trying to
win a sports championship without ever showing up for a team practice! Here are some easy tips.
A) Have the SAT Question of the Day delivered to your child’s Inbox every day. The official CollegeBoard website provides this wonderful study tool and will send an email with a practice question to you and/or your student. It’s definitely worth subscribing! When I was in high school, my parents assigned this question to me every day and I was required to do it, but the continual review kept me prepared.
B) Buy the official SAT Practice Book. There are so many SAT guide books out there from Princeton review and other text book companies. I would recommend getting the official CollegeBoard book, since the CollegeBoard is the organization that actually administrates the official test. This book comes with instructions, tips and several sample tests. My recommendation is to have your student do all of them.
C) Sign up for an SAT Workshop. My favorite was the CollegePrep Genius course taught by Jean Burke. She helps students learn how to think like the test writers and analyze the questions appropriately.

5. How many times should my child take the SAT or ACT?
They should take the test as many times as they need to get the ideal test scores for their school of choice. You can look online to find the average accepted SAT and ACT scores for each school. If your child is applying to Vanderbilt, then make sure their scores are in the goal range for what the school accepts.

6. What is an SAT Subject Test?
A Subject Test is similar to an AP exam. This is where a student can demonstrate expertise in a specific category that is not on the general test. Options include American History, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, foreign languages and many others. Some schools allow high scores in these tests to exempt freshmen from 100 level intro courses.

7. What is National Merit and how can my child qualify?
The National Merit scholarship is a prestigious honor given to students whose standardized test scores meet a specific requirement. This is only given for students who have taken the PSAT, which is the pre-SAT. Students can only qualify during their junior year, but they should definitely take it as a freshman or sophomore to practice. If your student is a junior, then have them study for and take the PSAT. If they qualify, they could receive full ride scholarships to college.
Preparing for college may be a busy and confusing time. For the students, it’s a new challenge and threshold, one that will push them farther than they knew was possible and give them the
chance to define their own identity. For you parents, it’s a time to help your student achieve their goals and start a new life. Stay tuned for tips on writing the application essays, winning scholarships, delivering interviews and helping your child set off on the great adventure of college.

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Advice for Parents

With Dr. Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College, presenting the certificate for the Outstanding First Year Student Award, Class of 2017!

Bio: Ciera is a unique blend of academic and artistic: she is a writer and world traveler, a lover of old books and swing dancing, and a student at Wheaton College in Chicago.  She shares her culturally-engaging outlook on literature, education and social hot topics for the Christian millennial on her blog, www.cierahorton.blogspot.com.

Advice for Parents

 

Ciera Horton

The ‘Write’ Way: Instilling a Love of Writing In Your Child

“Hey, can I read your book?” I looked up at the face of a young boy watching intently as I worked on my newest novel manuscript. Ben lived in my dorm with his family, the community counselors. I smiled and passed the book over and three days later, he became my youngest reader. Over the course of the semester, I began helping him in creative writing and motivating this budding artist. It was incredibly rewarding to have the chance to invest in a young person’s life, but I was truly touched when I received a letter from Ben that moved me to tears.

 

“Ciera, thank you so much for always encouraging me with my writing…I am doing an assignment called ‘whose shoes’ where we write to someone we look up to as a hero. I just want to thank you for the time you have spent with me helping my stories progress and grow…I hope that when I grow up, I will be as generous and loving like you…I will never forget you.”

 

Young people are highly impressionable and the smallest amount of encouragement can go a long way. In this case, I discovered that sharing my work with him and reading his writing in return gave him the necessary motivation to further pursue his dreams of finishing a book.

 

Writing is an integral part of life in that it helps young people learn to appreciate language and culture and formulate their thoughts on the world in a way that is both creative and formative to their development as an individual.

 

As parents, you have an even greater opportunity to instill a love for writing in your children. Not only will they learn by watching you as their role models, but you have the unique ability to touch their hearts with encouragement and challenge, which is both gracious and inspiring. Whether or not you yourself were raised to have a love for the written word, if you desire for your child to have a greater appreciation for the art and discipline of writing, there a few key ways you can encourage them.

 

  1. Expose your child to quality literature at a young age.

 

Consider ways to make books a part of your child’s life, such as making regular trips to the library, giving books as gifts or encouraging your child to read every day. When I was growing up, my mother scheduled reading time for an hour every afternoon. This practice helped me gain the ability to focus intensely for longer periods of time. In addition, it widened my palette of vocabulary and helped me fall in love with the narrative art of storytelling.

 

Furthermore, children who are read to daily are found to test higher in cognitive skills such as language, mathematics, memory and the process of understanding and recalling facts. A study from the University of Melbourne showed that parental reading increases a child’s cognitive skills and reading abilities from the age of six months to age 11. In other words, you can start reading to your baby to help instill a fundamental understanding of cadence, language and object recognition! This basic understanding of reading is the first step toward leading your child to love writing. Words become meaningful to them and they will ultimately have a greater desire to use their own words to express and communicate.

 

  1. Have them keep a journal.

 

Journaling for personal meditation or along with devotions and Scripture is a good life practice for any Christian no matter the age. This is beneficial for any child, both because it helps them learn structure and responsibility and also because they become more naturally self reflective. Furthermore, the progress is tangible and they can see their own growth as a writer as they fill up the pages.

 

I have personally kept journals since I was five years old — granted, the subject matter of my entries has changed greatly, but to look back into the thoughts of a younger me is a beautiful gift. Reading over my old notes is like stepping back in time, having a conversation with myself and it gives me insight to see how certain events shaped me. The practice of journaling can be creative, too, and I often include pictures, sketches or poems, anything that is a personal reflection on what I’m thinking or feeling.

 

  1. Celebrate when they ask questions.

 

Before answers can be found, questions must be asked. That truth is at the very heart of writing. To write is to question, to analyze, to seek truth and to strive to examine what you observe. The heart of this, though, is the art of experience and the acquired ability to reflect what you see in what you write.

 

Questions like, “What does it mean to be a girl? Why do I have to love my brother? Why do we go to church?” are life shaping. Let them thrive on the “why” questions and explore answers though the process of putting thoughts into words.

 

  1. Praise the work ethic.

 

I’ve heard it said “Praise the process, not the product!” But the truth is that we should affirm both. The journey is just as important as the destination and the same truism applies to writing in that we should value the method and time spent working on our craft just as we should appreciate the end result. When your child shows you a story he has written, praise him for the effort, encourage him in his endeavors and challenge him to grow. Illustrate ways in which he can learn more or become better, but understand that the truth is loving and to love is to be truthful. So affirm his desire to use his gifts and interests and show him how to practice his skills humbly.

 

  1. Help them see writing as applicable to various interests.

 

There is a place for the writer in everyone’s world. Not every child will have the same artistic imagination to write their own fairytales; others may prefer journaling or nonfiction or poetry. But the understanding that writing is both expression and communication is key. It’s both deeply personal and can be made public. It is an art and a discipline. Encouraging your child to learn how to think analytically and write critically about the world around them will sharpen important life skills and even help them formulate their recognition of identity.

 

When I received Ben’s letter about his project “Whose Shoes”, I was incredibly honored to be selected as this boy’s hero because of our writing mentorship. His note continued, “Our writing teacher asked for a pair of signed shoes from you, for our ‘whose shoes’ display that we have in class so we can literally walk in your shoes.” He asked for old, worn shoes that I wouldn’t miss.   Instead, I gave Ben my favorite pair of Chuck Norris Converse. Being selected as Ben’s role model has continued to be a reminder to me that we as Christians have the blessing of being able to speak deeply into others’ lives, especially children. I truly believe that leadership skills are not determined by how much we accomplish, but by how much those we lead accomplish. As a parent, recognize that you have the ability to lead, challenge, humble and encourage your child in both the writing process and whatever endeavor they undertake. The “write” way looks different for every child, but to instill a love for the written word in them is to share a valued appreciation for stories, both those of others and their own.

 

Bio: A sophomore at Wheaton College, Ciera is a unique blend of academic and artistic: she reads Kerouac and Chaucer, paints still life and modern art and loves writing poetry on her typewriter named Ernest.  As a writer and champion public speaker, she grew up hanging out with Christian music stars, artists and writers who greatly influenced her culturally-engaging outlook on life, which she writes about at www.cierahorton.blogspot.com.

Ciera Horton

What can churches realistically do to make families of special needs children feel welcome?

When you have a child with autism or other special needs, even the simple everyday tasks most take for granted can present their own set of unique challenges and issues. Trips to the grocery store, outings to the zoo…and yes, even church! Between the noises, the lights and the crowds, churches can be a lot for kids with sensory issues to handle.

For parents, this can be very isolating. We find ourselves feeling looked down upon in social situations when sensory issues lead to meltdowns and ‘inappropriate’ behaviors. Even in church, it’s easy to feel a little unwelcome at times.

 

In an ideal world, every church would offer a sensory friendly service… a special service where families of those with sensory issues could come and worship without fear. Music would be turned down, there’d be no crazy lights, no booming speeches and moving around would be not only acceptable but even welcome. Or perhaps they’d offer a special room (like a cry room, seen in many larger churches) or even a special needs classroom available during the church services. All options would be ideal…but let’s be honest, most churches simply do not have the resources available.

Which leads to the question: what can churches realistically do to make families of special needs children feel welcome?

One very simple way is by offering a sensory box to use during services to those that need them. This box would contain both sensory products aimed to help deal with sensory overload, as well as fun activities that can help children stay occupied. Here’s a look at some ideas to include:

 

  • Weighted Products. Weighted/compression vests, lap pads, etc can be a great for calming and helping kids to stay still.
  • Noise Reducing Headphones. One of the big issues for kids in a church setting is the noise- be it the music, the blare of speakers or just the crowd in general. For my son, we have found noise reducing headphones to be essential in public places when it becomes too much. These are similar to what one would wear at a shooting range and does not block out all noise but rather filters out some of the background noise.
  • Oral Sensory Toys. These would of course be specific to each child (to be stored with a plastic baggie with their name), but can also be a great addition to your sensory box. For my son, I’ve found that having something to chew on such as this can help him to focus…as well as keeping his mouth off of everything around him!
  • Books. For the child that can read, books can be a great distraction! Fill with bright, vibrant books for various age levels. Consider Veggie Tales comics or fun Bible storybooks. I loved featuring a book called ‘God Made Me Special’ to remind those differently-abled children that God made them perfect just as they are.
  • Art Supplies. Crayons, coloring books, pencils, etc can all again provide great busy work to make the wait a little easier. Color Wonder papers and markers can be ideal for younger kids or those with fine motor issues to prevent messes. Clay and/or playdoh when possible can also serve as a great sensory experience.
  • Small Quiet Toys. Of course there is no better way to occupy a child’s attention than with toys! For this box, the key thing you want to look for is toys that can be played with quietly! Plush toys, soft balls, etc are great options. For the sensory seeking kid, offer a variety of textures. Find toys that have colorful lights. Spinning parts are also popular among kids with sensory issues (gears, wheels, tops, etc).  Inexpensive novelty toys are fantastic for this type of box…they can be replaced easily and inexpensively and because they are not played with every day still keep their appeal. (We used this types of toys often as reinforcements in therapy).
Of course, every child will be different and what helps one child might not for the next, but this list will give you a great starting point to build upon. The sensory therapy products can all be found at stores specializing in therapy or education, but many great sensory friendly toys and books can be found right where you shop for your other church supplies- Family Christian.Just by letting families know that you have thought of them and want to make their church experience as easy as possible can go a long way in letting them know that they are in fact welcome. But don’t let the welcoming end there. Offer support where possible, ask questions about how you can make church a better experience for each individual family and above all be understanding. Even creating the perfect sensory-friendly church experience may still prove too much for some children- reach out to these families where they are. A little bit of compassion can go a long way in making this journey with a differently-abled child a little less lonely.

Randi Sampson is a Christian wife and autism mom. She blogs at A Modern Day Fairy Tale– sharing stories of motherhood, life, product reviews and everything in between.

Hope for the Messed-Up Life

James Merritt JANUARY 5, 2015

Hope for the Messed-Up Life
JAMES MERRITT

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’” John 4:13-15 (ESV)

Have you ever messed up so badly that it left you believing God wants nothing to do with you? If your answer is “yes,” then you’re in good company, because we all have. We’ve all made poor choices and bad decisions. A bad decision can cost you your marriage, job, friendships and even your peace of mind.

But, if you’re willing to admit you’ve messed up, you’re a prime candidate for an encounter with Jesus. In fact, He specializes in ministering to messed-up people. One of the many things I love about Jesus is that He gravitates toward those who are typically ignored, ridiculed, hated and rejected.

One of the greatest examples of this is found in the book of John. In chapter 4, Jesus encounters a woman at a well. This nameless woman meets Jesus while she performs one of the most mundane tasks in her messed-up life — drawing water out of a well.

She quickly learned a lesson we all need to know as well — the mundane can become momentous when we let Jesus clean up our mess-ups and radically change our lives. Jesus wants to clean up our mess-ups so much that He will break down every possible barrier to do so.

For example, to meet the woman at the well …

Jesus overcame a cultural barrier. Jesus traveled through a region that His people — the Jews — would always avoid. Jesus saw culture, not as a barrier to compassion, but as a bridge to ministry.

Jesus overcame a moral barrier. This woman carried a terrible reputation. Her past put her in the category of a Hall-of-Fame sinner. She had been married five times and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband. With this track record, everyone in her community knew her, and no man would dare to speak with her in public. No man, except Jesus! Jesus engaged with this woman, and we see her fess up to her mess-up.

We live in a culture that teaches us to hide our mess-ups and call them anything except the sins that they are. Jesus demonstrated through this woman that He will forgive us when we are willing to confess our sin to Him.

Jesus is not intimidated by our past. He sees beyond our failures and offers us a faithful future. You can’t do anything so bad that it will cause God to love you less.

If you’re reading this today and feel like Jesus wants nothing to do with you, I want you to know that He will break every possible barrier to reach you. Jesus is so serious about the task that He left heaven and came to earth to restore anyone who is willing to be cleansed. Today, you can meet with Jesus, bring Him your mess-ups, and allow Him to clean you up.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for loving me so much that You destroy every possible barrier that could keep me from You. Help me to quickly fess up to my mess-ups, so that I can receive the wonderful forgiveness that is only found in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (ESV)

RELATED RESOURCES:
Just like the woman at the well, if we took the time to really live with Jesus, we might be surprised by what we’d find. For hope and encouragement for your messed-up life, you’ll be encouraged by 52 Weeks With Jesus by James Merritt.

To learn more about Dr. Merritt, visit touchinglives.org.

Enter to WIN a copy of 52 Weeks with Jesus by Dr. James Merritt. In celebration of this book, Dr. Merritt’s publisher is giving away 10 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here, letting us know why you’d like a copy for yourself OR whom you would give the book to, if you won. {We’ll randomly select 10 winners and email notifications to each one, by Monday, Jan. 12.}

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
What barriers have you built in your mind that cause you to believe that Jesus is not near to you?

What mistakes have you refused to fully give over to Jesus? Give them to Him today and trust that He has forgiven you.

© 2015 by James Merritt. All rights reserved.

 

The Desire to Belong

“so in Christ we who are many form one body…” Romans 12:5 (NIV)

 

We are all familiar with it… the desire to belong. Even as adults, there is an urging within that says we would like to find that special group of friends.

Several years ago, before we joined our current church, we visited several churches. We were looking for the right fit for our family.  We had two young children at the time, so we answered a variety of questions from church members: Homeschool vs. public school. Breast feeding vs. formula. Working mother or Stay at home. It was as if we were being interviewed and unfortunately found lacking in a few areas. We are now settled at our current church and loving it. We don’t feel the pressures to cave to one social group and attribute that to the preaching. When you have a strong pastor leading the flock, it helps to keep such issues in perspective.

While praying about what to write for this blog, those memories came flooding back.  Now, I can laugh over some of the comments that originally left painful scars on my soul.  I wondered, who else has endured similar moments? How did they handle it? So, I asked a group of people who have become my friends online. I met most of them before my 9-year-old daughter was born.  I was thankful that they were willing to open up to me, because religion isn’t a topic easily discussed.

The overwhelming response to my message board post told me that this is a bigger issue than I realized.  These friends shared from their hearts and I was moved to pray for many.

I heard from a divorcee, who struggles with taking her children to church functions and not feeling like she has a place any longer. She will often drop them off and leave to avoid the awkward feeling. This is a woman who has a church home, she is involved, but no longer feels like she has a place among her friends.

How about a person who is married without children? They would love to have friendships with the other couples, but doesn’t know how to relate or start those friendships when the first question asked is, “Do you have kids?” When they answer, the families lose interest. It isn’t easy to form a friendship with someone in different life circumstances, but it also isn’t impossible. God can teach us so much through other people. We only have to look at the New Testament church for an example of how diversity can serve the church body as a whole.  Jesus used a variety of men and women from various backgrounds to start his ministry.

We are all children of God. We are members of one body. We only need to look down the pew on a Sunday morning to see a few of our own church members feeling they don’t belong.  How long will people continue to come, if they feel they don’t fit in?

We are not perfect people, we are sinners saved by grace. Let’s leave the plastic smiles at the door. Let’s be real and take a moment to reach out to those who need a friend. A divorcee who needs someone to sit with, a man looking for a friend to talk with, the list goes on. I heard from twenty different people, each with a story, a hurt, and a heart that needs healing. Some of them no longer attend church. Each of them needs to know that God hasn’t forgotten them, that the church body works better as a whole. We are individuals who God created for a greater purpose. One of those purposes is to serve Him. When we leave the church fellowship because of hurts, it not only hurts you, but also the church as a whole.

You can read this blog post, then move on to the next interesting thing to read online. Or we can pray for healing in our church body. Let’s take it one step farther, next time you are at church ask someone, “How can I pray for you this week?” Then, commit to praying for that person.

Pray for hearts to be opened and healed. That people within the church would see the need to repent and ask for the forgiveness for the wrongs they have done, and that those who have been offended would seek to return to the church. May His healing touch be felt in each of your lives today.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalms 147:3

 

Bio:

Stacey Zink lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, two children, and the goldfish that will never die. She enjoys reviewing books and sharing about life at: http://suburbanthoughts.wordpress.com/

 

Do you know what you believe?

Do you know what you believe?
Do you believe that God’s Word is true? Every word of it?
This is something on my heart as a mom. I want to make sure our family is certain of what we believe in and I want to make sure we are leading our children to understand that every ounce of God’s Word is true, without a doubt.
What can we do to ensure our children are being taught this truth? Here are a few things that we do in our family:

 

  • We read God’s Word with them and give them time to ask questions and we like to have them tell us in their words what we have read. Narration is a great way to ensure they understand what we have read.
  • We read devotionals with them nightly that helps to expand on this knowledge.
  • We memorize scriptures together daily as a family.
  • We pray multiple time together each day, especially before meals and bedtime.
  • We help them to recognize when God has answered a prayer, even the small ones, so that we can give thanks to Him.
  • We sing praises to Him, especially when we are scared or worried or anxious about something.
  • We also want to make sure that they realize that we can’t believe in only parts of the bible. We either believe it all or we believe none of it. We can’t believe in Creation and yet not believe in the Flood. We can’t believe in Jesus’ death upon The Cross and yet not believe in His resurrection.

The most important part of making sure our children know what they believe, is to make sure we know what we believe! As parents, we need to spend time in God’s word, praying and building our relationship with Him. We must have assurance in what we believe in so that we can better lead our children. We need to be that example to them so that they can see us living out our beliefs as well.

Will you join me in a challenge? Let’s spend time with Our Lord. Let us be certain of we believe in so that we can be the example that our spouse needs, that our children need, that our loved ones need…..that this world needs!

I leave you with a scripture and ask that you meditate on it, memorize, pray over it:

Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

GodlyGlimpsesBioPic

Jennifer is a wife and homeschooling mother to three (plus one more on the way!) She is also a blogger at Godly Glimpses where she shares about marriage, parenting, homeschooling and faith. You can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest.

A Love Encounter

By Emily Rose Massey

 

I seriously enjoy Saturdays.

It’s the time where I get to spend a few hours of my morning with the Lord and just relax before the weekend picks up speed.

I’m able to slow down and really just enjoy the simple pleasures of life like coffee, PJs, and messy hair.

This morning, as I ended the last couple pages of my journal, I was reflecting on this past year and couldn’t help but praise God for His overwhelming love and faithfulness.

Around this time last year, my husband, Paul, and I just found out that we were expecting our first child, a promise that God had spoken to us about through our pastor during a Wednesday night service just a couple months before.

At six weeks along in my pregnancy, we went in for our first doctor’s appointment and we were able to hear our baby’s tiny heartbeat- this was becoming so real! After the appointment, the doctor asked me to come in again two weeks later. A part of me found it a little odd that I needed to already come back again so early on in the pregnancy, but I didn’t let it bother me and scheduled the follow-up appointment.

Those two weeks passed by pretty quickly, and I was on my way to the doctor’s office again. My spirit was troubled the whole way there. Paul wasn’t able to go with me this time, so I just kept declaring God’s peace over my heart and kept whispering the name of Jesus, even when I was in the exam room. While the doctor was looking at the ultrasound, I heard her sigh and say, “I hate when that happens.”

“What?” I asked.

“The baby no longer has a heart-beat. I’m so sorry.”

Right then, I immediately felt God’s presence fill the room. I sat up and the doctor just looked at me, not really knowing how I was going to react. My eyes began to well up with tears, as I said these words to her:

“You know, I have been through a lot in my short 27 years on this earth. From depression, to the murder of my dad, to watching my family be torn apart by adultery and divorce and God has never left my side. My faith has always carried me through it all and this is no different. God has a plan. He will work this all out for good.”

She said, “I believe He will too,” put her hand on my shoulder and left the room so that I could have a moment to myself.

I got my things together, scheduled my follow-up appointment to discuss the next steps/options, and called Paul to tell him the news, even declaring and believing that God could resurrect that tiny life inside me if it was His will, fighting back tears with each word. When I got home, we went to my favorite restaurant and continued to speak of God’s faithfulness, even through all of our questions and deep pain.

After dinner, Paul reminded me of the gift card someone from church had given us for the baby and suggested we go and pick up some items for our precious promise from the Lord.

Talk about faith!

It was hard for me to walk through those aisles, staring at all of things for babies when I had just received the sad news about our little one, but deep down, I knew God had declared that we WILL have a child. Walking out the pain, we continued to trust in God’s timing and kept believing He would make it happen again for us.

In the car, a song came on the radio that stirred my emotions for what I had just experienced. I tried to hold back the tears, but couldn’t do it any longer. Paul just held me as I cried. Although it was difficult, I didn’t allow my emotions to overtake me.

We pulled the car in the drive-way and I walked upstairs to our bedroom and just cried out to the Lord. Again, in that moment, the presence of the Lord filled the room. His loving arms wrapped around me as I laid on my bed, with a broken heart. As I cried out, a short song came forth from my mouth that I knew came straight from the abundance of my heart:

“Jesus, take my life, display it for the world to see, so that You My King, can receive Your glory….”

A few days later, the Lord gave me the rest of the song:

In You
Verse 1:
You’re my desire
Lord, You are my everything
It’s in You I find
My purpose, my meaning
Verse 2:
So take my life
Display it for the world to see
So that You, my King
Can receive Your glory
Chorus:
I’ll hide my life
In You, Jesus Christ
It’s You who gives me strength
To rise above the storm
Oh yes, My life
Is a living sacrifice
So that You can shine
And draw all men to Your heart
I live and move and have my being
In You
Bridge:
Jesus
When I stand in Your name
Your blood cleanses me of all my shame
The Father sees what You’ve done
How You died on the cross to save us

I encountered God’s amazing love during that trial last year and I know I will never be the same because of it. He is faithful to me in loss and faithful to me in gain. His promises are true. I can’t wait to tell our son, Isaiah, who I will be able to hold in my arms in just a few short weeks, about them.

All glory to God!

Who Will Rebuild My Home?

‘Who Will Rebuild My Home?’

By Laura Reinhardt

*Post and photos are courtesy of World Vision.

It was around noon on a day in 2012 when Adelina and her grandmother, Juliet, returned from working in the fields. They found their house collapsed into a heap of rubble because of poor construction.

“I felt poverty,” Juliet remembers

The 78-year-old widow recalls thinking: “My husband has died and now my house had fallen down. Who will rebuild it for me?”

Adelina says, “I asked myself, ‘Where are we going to live?’”

Twelve-year-old Adelina has known hardship before. Her mother died due to complications from childbirth. Her father abandoned her and she has lived with her grandmother since 2005.

But she had always had a roof over her head. Now where would they go? She and her grandmother lived as subsistence farmers. They didn’t have money to rebuild a home.

The loss of their home forced them to ask for help from neighbors, who allowed them to move into a nearby home. Sadly, that home also had one collapsed wall.

Despite her advanced age, Juliet began doing extra farming to raise a little bit more money.

Finally she had saved enough money to buy a few supplies for a new shelter. However, it was hardly a home. Four thin tree posts long by three tree posts wide with a grass roof over top—there were no walls on the sides. It was simply a roof for Adelina and her grandmother.

Sometimes when it rained, they couldn’t even lay down. Water leaked through the quickly constructed roof. They had to stay awake and standing all night to avoid getting wet.

Both Adelina and Juliet worried about snakes. Juliet also worried about strangers passing by on the nearby road. Would they see the wide-open shelter and come to harm them?

Adelina’s biggest fear was simple: “I was afraid the house would fall.”

Thankfully the story didn’t end there.

Powerful Training for Pastors

In the same community, Pastor Jornito Jorge, 35, had begun receiving training from World Vision thanks to child sponsorship in the Namanjivira Area Development Program.

The training encouraged Pastor Jorge to work side-by-side with his fellow pastors. “Before I didn’t know it was important to have these relationships with other churches,” he says. “It feels like it’s important because if you have interaction with other churches, you grow spiritually and you learn to know much better the word of God.”

Through this training, he learned about the Community Care Coalition (CCC), which World Vision had started in other communities. The CCC provides for the physical and material needs of children left vulnerable due to poverty like Adelina and Juliet.

He also learned about World Vision’s Channels of Hope program, which helps pastors and church volunteers to support those who are chronically ill and their children. They work to provide for both the physical and spiritual needs of their patients.

“Through this training I learned to wear the shoes of somebody else. If this was me, how would I feel? I thought it was good for me to help those in need,” Pastor Jorge says.

Through the CCC, the community now cares for 144 children. Pastor Jorge gives credit to World Vision and the training he received. Without the training he wouldn’t have even begun “because I didn’t have an idea how to start this work.”

A Donor’s Generosity

A donor and child sponsor named Linda Fisher visited Pastor Jorge’s community and heard a presentation about the work that the CCC and Channels of Hope were doing. She asked the groups how would they support all the activities they had planned for the children.  They replied that they planned to pool the money they had to buy a mill to grind corn. They could then sell that corn flour to the community and use the money to provide clothing, school workbooks, and whatever else the vulnerable children might need.

Linda returned home to the United States and within a month sent back the money for the mill.

That wasn’t the only source of income for these programs. Pastor Jorge has a small bakery next to his church where he and church members bake fresh bread to sell and raise money.

The church also owns and cultivates an acre of land growing fresh vegetables. World Vision provided Pastor Jorge and the CCC with seeds. A World Vision staff member who focused on food security trained them on best agricultural practices to increase their vegetable yield.

Now Pastor Jorge sells cabbage, carrots, corn, and other vegetables to provide additional funds to help the orphans and vulnerable children of his community.

A Volunteer Visits

The CCC and Channels of Hope each are composed of 15 volunteers. The CCC volunteers come from throughout the community and the volunteers from Channels of Hope all come from Pastor Jorge’s church—Luz de Jesus.

The volunteers scour the community visiting all of the vulnerable children and chronically ill in the area. Due to the vast area and the fact that people are most often on foot or bicycle, they usually are able to visit all the people they serve once a quarter.

So it had been a couple of months that Adelina and her grandmother had lived under their shelter before a volunteer came and learned what had happened. The CCC sprang into action.

They made bricks, then bought bamboo and grass to roof the house. “I was happy for the news of the house construction,” says Juliet.  “God is powerful because He saw that we have been through a difficult situation and now we have this new house.”

 

When Adelina learned about the new home she says, “I was laughing [with joy].”

“Thank you for the help,” says Juliet. “We would be facing hard times because in that house, which used to be so cold.”

“They are good people,” says Adelina of the volunteers and donors who built her new home.

Now, thanks to funding from World Vision’s sponsorship program, Adelina and Juliet have a permanent shelter over their heads. The sturdily constructed home should stand for a long time. No longer does Juliet have to worry about strangers passing by in the night. No longer do they have to sleep standing up to avoid the rains. And the future looks a little bit brighter.

*This is a brief glimpse into the work that World Vision is doing 24/7, 365 days a year around the world.  Every time you shop in-stores, or online, with Family Christian, it helps fund programs like these mentioned above.  Thank you for your support and thank you World Vision for your service and for sharing this blog post with us.